February 21, 2012

From NEHJ: Heroic Farnham carries on Bears family tradition

By Dan Guttenplan

Brown University hockey coach Brendan Whittet finds himself telling anoth

Brown assistant captain Bobby Farnham Jr. (North Andover, Mass.) is the first hockey player in a long line of Brown football players. (Photo courtesy of DSPics.net)

er heroic story about his assistant captain, Bobby Farnham, and quickly catches himself. 

“It sounds I’m talking about Superman,” says Whittet (East Providence, R.I.).

Whittet’s reflections of Farnham do not include a tale in which the senior forward leaps over a tall building in a single bound. However, they do include a story of Farnham spearheading a program in which an 8-year-old cancer survivor was “drafted” as a member of the Brown men’s hockey team. They also include a tale of Farnham participating in an ocean rescue of three swimmers who were caught in a rip current in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene last summer.

Farnham, a North Andover, Mass. native, descends from a family of former Brown athletes, although he is the first hockey player in a long line of football players. Bobby’s father, Bob Sr. (class of 1988), uncle Mark Farnham (class of ’80), uncle Paul Farnham (class of ’83) and cousin Buddy Farnham (class of 2010) all played wide receiver for the Brown football team.

“I used to bring him down to Brown quite often when he was young,” Bob Farnham Sr. said. “I’d bring him into the football locker room and out on the field. He grew up knowing quite a bit about the Brown tradition.”

Bobby Jr. grew up playing football, hockey and baseball, and by high school, he viewed hockey as his best avenue to follow in the family footsteps of four other Brown athletes. Bobby spent his freshman and sophomore high school years at Brooks School in North Andover before transferring to Phillips Academy Andover.

“I felt Phillips Andover gave me a better chance to achieve what I wanted to achieve,” Farnham said.

The move paid off for Farnham, who was recruited by former Brown coach Roger Grillo as a junior. The 5-foot-11, 188-pound defenseman quickly committed to play hockey at Brown, where he would follow the family tradition of wearing No. 46.

Bobby’s father remembers being a passive observer of his son’s college recruiting process, which included a host of ECAC schools.

“I would say I was hopeful that he’d choose Brown,” Farnham Sr. said. “I never told him my opinion, and he met all of the coaches one-on-one. He made the decision on his own, but I couldn’t have been happier when he made the decision.”

Bobby’s role has evolved each season at Brown. He contributed in a specified role as a freshman, tallying seven points on the season. His point total has jumped each year; and as of late January, he was third among Bears in scoring this season.

“It really has been a process for me,” Farnham said. “Things click more and more every year. My junior year, with a new coach, I felt more comfortable than ever on the ice. This year, I’ve taken on more of a leadership role, and it’s been a fun ride.” 

Father Bob Farnham Sr. (class of ’88) during his playing days with the Bears. (Photo courtesy of Tom McGuire)

Farnham’s leadership has extended well beyond the ice. Over the past year, he’s developed a close relationship with 8-year-old Ethan Barois, who was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in January 2011. Barois, a Berkley, Mass., resident, linked up with the Brown hockey program through Team IMPACT, a New England nonprofit that links team-based organizations with children facing adversity.

Farnham started as the team’s Team IMPACT advocate but soon took on more of a role in Barois’ life, according to Ethan’s mother, Debbie Barois.

“Bobby’s a mentor for Ethan, and more than that, he’s a part of our family,” Debbie Barois said. “He’s done great things for Ethan. He taught him how to skate and how to build stamina. Ethan will call him in the middle of the day, at practices, just to say hello.”

Farnham, who has been nominated for the 2012 NCAA Hockey Humanitarian Award, presented a stall to Ethan in the Brown dressing room before the start of this season. He also helped the Barois family build an outdoor rink at their home. Ethan’s chemotherapy will continue until 2013, although he has been in remission for several months.

“Ethan had no experience with hockey before this,” Debbie Barois said. “Now we live and breathe hockey. Ethan still has a lot of work to do. His balance and strength are off, but this helps. Bobby helped bring up his self-confidence and stamina.”

Farnham believes the relationship has been a two-way street.

“It’s awesome for him, and it’s awesome for us, too,” Farnham said. “He’s so upbeat, and he gives us so much energy on the ice. It works both ways.”

Even when Farnham is attempting to relax, it seems heroic acts find him. Last summer, he and five Brown teammates took part in a beach rescue at South Shore Beach in Little Compton, R.I. On a day in which the beach was closed in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, Farnham’s teammates saw two girls struggling in a rip current. Three of Farnham’s teammates swam out to the girls and brought them into shore.

Farnham and two other teammates then noticed a boy floating on his back 40 to 50 yard offshore, and they eventually brought him to shore with a boogey board.

“This kid was belly-up floating there,” Farnham said. “He was caught in a riptide and had kind of given up. It was supposed to be a relaxing beach day, and we ended up giving everything we had to help them out.”

Sounds like a job for …

This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Dan Guttenplan can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com