When Bobby Farnham was given a 10-minute misconduct during overtime against the Portland Pirates on March 9, he accomplished something that no Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin had achieved since 2003: he topped the 200 penalty minute mark.
Heading into Friday’s game against Worcester, the Penguins rookie ranks third in the AHL with 210 penalty minutes in 50 games. The last Penguin to top the 200 mark was Dennis Bonvie, with 203 in the 2007-08 season.
The day after the Portland game, Farnham set another milestone when he dropped the gloves with Manchester’s Chris Huxley. The fight was Farnham’s 18th of the season, breaking the Penguins’ franchise rookie record of 17, set by Daniel Carcillo in 2005-2006.
For a player who never got the chance to fight while spending the previous four years playing college hockey, Farnham has quickly embraced the fisticuffs as something that comes with the territory.
And even though he never set out to top the 200 penalty minute mark and rank among the league leaders, it’s a milestone that Farnham is proud to accept.
“If I’m doing my job the right way, penalty minutes seem to find me, I guess,” Farnham said. “To finish in the top five in the league, it would be an accomplishment I take pride in.
“Not because I took stupid or soft penalties, but because I played hard and they simply added up by the end of the year.”
And as a result, the majority of Farnham’s penalty minutes are what head coach John Hynes calls “hard minutes.”
So far, Farnham has been whistled for 50 penalties - minors, majors and misconducts. Of those, 18 were for fighting, 10 for roughing, three for goaltender interference along with seven misconducts for a total of 38. They are the type of penalties that usually involve a few punches and scrums.
“His stats aren’t padded,” Hynes said. “We recognize, as do other teams, that this is who he is. This is how he plays - in your face and under your skin. Bobby’s done a nice job of it.”
At 5-10, 180 pounds, Farnham is far from a heavyweight enforcer. Possessing good speed, a fearlessness on the ice and a willingness to yap, Farnham has thrived in the role of agitator. It’s a job where playing on the edge is a requirement and respect from opponents doesn’t come easy.
The fact that Farnham is not only willing to agitate, but answer the bell as well, makes the difference between a player who is respected for his role and one who is simply despised.
“Fighting goes a long ways to being able to stand up for your teammates and yourself, while obtaining that respect as well,” Farnham said.
There are times when Farnham’s gloves don’t come off, and that usually leads to a stat that, if it were kept, he’d likely rank among the league leaders: penalties drawn.
That facet of the game is one that evolved for Farnham since he arrived with the Penguins via a call-up from Wheeling in early November. At the beginning of the year, Farnham didn’t hesitate to drop the gloves at the slightest urging of an opponent.
Now, he’s a bit more diplomatic about things. Farnham weighs the pros and cons before the gloves come off. That approach has led to numerous instances when a frustrated opponent skated to the box and Farnham - albeit a bit roughed up, headed to the bench as his team went on the power play.
Sometimes it seems as if Farnham has mastered the art of drawing penalties, such as when the Penguins faced rival Binghamton on Feb. 16.
“(Binghamton winger) Darren Kramer wanted to fight me all game, and I knew it,” Farnham said. “Behind the net I took a little whack at their goalie, he came flying in and I didn’t do anything. I let him punch me.”
Kramer went to the box for roughing, and the Penguins scored on the resulting power play.
“When you’re not in the box and the other team is, that’s the definition of agitating,” Farnham said.
With 13 games remaining in the season, Farnham stands a good chance at not only finishing in the top five in penalty minutes, but becoming the first Penguin in seven years to top the 250 minute mark.
And if the milestones are achieved, Farnham won’t get there with hooking and holding minors, but the hard minutes that define his role as agitator.
“I try to take the hard minutes. I took a hooking penalty recently - my first of the year, and I was shocked,” Farnham said. “I know I have a couple misconducts in there as well, and sometimes maybe you do go a bit far. But because I play on the edge and play physical, I feel like the hard minutes show I’m doing it the right way.”