Some young hockey players immediately gravitate towards the game while some take time to discover their love and passion for it. Michael Farren falls into the latter.
“I liked going out skating and having my parents push me around in a chair, that was really fun,” he said. “But when it came to hockey, I just sat in the net crying most of the time. I ended up quitting for a year or two before coming back to it.”
Farren says he played multiple other sports at a young age including football and soccer and enjoyed them more than hockey which led to his hiatus from the game.
Watching his friends play hockey together changed his tune and brought him back to the ice.
“My best friend in school was always talking about hockey, so I wanted to go back and play and be better than him,” he admitted. “I remember watching all my friends that I grew up with all play and I just wanted to go play with them.”
Giving hockey a second chance turned out to be a smart decision as it set Farren on the path towards the Western Hockey League.
It also gave him some lifelong memories of time shared with his father, Kevin, as he was Farren’s first coach.
“I remember waking up early and putting all my gear on at home so I could sleep in the car on the way to practice,” he said. “Every time we won a game my dad would take me out for sushi afterwards, so that was kind of a special memory we got to share together.”
California rolls were the go-to for young Michael Farren, cut in half.
After playing his minor hockey all around the Lower Mainland area, including White Rock, Cloverdale and North Vancouver, Farren moved to Penticton for his first year of U15 at the Okanagan Hockey Academy. A move made easier by having one of his parents with him at all times.
“I remember walking into the facility there for the first time when they were showing me around and it was just a surreal moment,” Farren recalled. “My parents really worked hard to try and give me every opportunity to succeed, and I got to go there for one season which was awesome.”
Out-of-town players normally billet with families in Penticton while attending OHA, but Farren’s dad rented a house in Penticton, allowing he or his mom to stay with Michael throughout the duration of the season.
Farren was coached by former NHL defenceman Blake Wesley during his 2013-14 season at OHA and split the season between the top team in his age group, appearing in 21 games and scoring six points.
That team featured a plethora of future WHL players such as Michael Rasmussen, Scott Walford, Jonathan Smart and one-time Bronco Ethan O’Rourke.
“I think being surrounded by a bunch of ex-NHLers was pretty crazy,” Farren recalled. “You grow up pretty quick being around those guys. I learned a lot over the course of that year.
Farren returned to the Lower Mainland for the following season and turned his attention to the WHL Draft as he was eligible for the 2015 Draft.
After talking with multiple teams over the course of the season, Farren took the day off from school to stay home and watch the draft. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out to be a good day as he went undrafted.
“I stayed home from school that day to watch it, but [getting drafted] didn’t end up happening,” he said. “Which is alright, it happens.”
Farren now knows that going undrafted worked out just fine for him, but it stung significantly in the moment.
“When I was 15, I don’t think I took it too well,” Farren admitted. “I was pretty upset, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to the WHL anymore. I thought it was the end of the world, which it obviously wasn’t. I got to go to Everett’s camp when I was 15 and when you walk into a rink like that at that age, your eyes just light up and all you want to do is play there.”
Advancing to the U18 level for the 2015-16 season, Farren played for the Valley West Hawks and had a strong season with 48 points in 40 games.
His performance helped the Hawks to a BC U18 league championship as they advanced to play the Lloydminster Bobcats U18 team at the Telus Regional Qualifiers. Those games didn’t go over well for Farren’s Hawks; losing both games and outscored 9-4.
“They ended up just kicking our butts,” he said. “They were a bunch of big farm boys who just hit us really hard, and I don’t think we were really ready for that.”
Broncos alum Jaxan Kaluski was a member of that Bobcats team, along with a few of Farren’s future teammates in Saskatoon in Jantzen Leslie and Chase Wouters.
Listed by the Blades during that U18 season, Farren went to training camp the following season with no expectations of making the team. He even had to decide which training camp he was going to attend, as a BCHL team was holding their training camp at the same time.
“I didn’t think I was going to make the Blades and I remember showing up to training camp a day late,” Farren recalled. “Maybe that ended up giving me a bit of an edge because I missed the fitness testing and wasn’t as tired as some other guys. I got put on the same team as Wouters, who was my age, and I think that maybe pushed me to try a little harder to make the team.”
Farren did enough just a few days into camp to garner a Standard Player Agreement offer from the Blades, though he didn’t sign it right away.
“I remember sitting in the hotel room with my dad laughing and thinking ‘Is this really happening?’,” he said. “I didn’t sign while there in Saskatoon, I ended up going home for a week before telling my dad that I really wanted to play there, and I had to go back.”
Putting pen to paper, Farren made the Blades’ opening night lineup for the 2016-17 season, making his WHL debut at the Innovation Credit Union iPlex.
It was a memorable night as the Blades won 5-1 and Farren picked up his first point.
“I remember being so nervous before that game,” he said. “That rink was so packed for that game. I was standing there on the bench with a guy who was on my U18 team with, and we almost couldn’t believe that we were there. Later in the game I passed the puck to him and he ended up scoring, so it was an unforgettable experience.”
The undrafted, unheralded rookie ended up having a strong season with the Blades as he finished with eight goals and 22 assists.
Only three 2000-born players had more points than Farren during the 2016-17 campaign: 2015 first-overall pick Ty Smith in Spokane, 2015 second-overall pick Calen Addison in Lethbridge and Nolan Foote in Kelowna.
“Unfortunately, some guys got hurt during that season, so I was lucky enough to get some opportunities on the power play and things like that,” Farren said. “But I was definitely pretty happy with my first year in the WHL.”
Farren’s second season in the league produced 11 goals and 11 assists as the Blades improved as a team, winning seven more games than the previous season.
Despite having more points than the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Red Deer Rebels, who both made the playoffs, the Blades didn’t make the cut because they weren’t in the top-three of the East Division and three points back of the second-wildcard Prince Albert Raiders.
“It’s hard, especially when you start getting closer with your teammates,” Farren said of missing the playoffs in 2018. “You see the 20-year-olds not getting a chance to play in the playoffs one last time and it’s heart breaking. We were trying to make a push to get there towards the end of the season, but it just wasn’t in the cards.”
With a new coach in place for the following season, Farren wasn’t sure what to expect heading to camp in the fall of 2019. After a strong start to the season with five points in eight games, Farren was traded to the Kelowna Rockets.
“It was nice being back in British Columbia,” he said. “I took on a bit of a different role than I was used to, but I was ok with that. I was excited about the opportunity and it’s hard to beat living in Kelowna.”
Farren joined a Rockets team that was entering a bit of a rebuild following six straight seasons of 40-plus wins and played more a checking role while chipping in with seven points.
The Rockets went head-to-head with the Kamloops Blazers in a tie-breaker game to determine the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“It was a tight game at the start but there were a couple breakdowns that ended up costing us the game,” Farren said of the 5-1 loss. “You live and you learn, but it was definitely hard. I thought we were going to be able to squeak that one out and get the win.”
Kelowna was set to host the 2020 Memorial Cup the following season, and while the Rockets didn’t separate themselves as an elite team over the course of the season, Farren says the group never lost their focus.
“We were all working so hard, having two and a half hour practices and guys working out after that,” he said. “Everyone was really determined to have a good showing in the Memorial Cup. Nobody cared where they were playing in the lineup, everyone had completely bought in.”
Farren sustained an injury in late January that season and returned home to the Lower Mainland during his recovery.
In March, Farren got some ominous text messages from his teammates.
“The group chat we had for the team started talking about a team meeting we were having, and nobody knew what it was about,” he recalled. “About an hour later I got a call from the head coach letting me know that the season was being shut down for safety protocols.”
Like everyone else in the WHL, Farren and teammates were holding onto hope that the season would resume, and they would get their opportunity to host the Memorial Cup, but Farren says deep down they knew it wasn’t going to happen.
With the status of the 2020-21 WHL season up in the air, Farren had to find a new home as well as the Rockets placed him on waivers in August. Though he wasn’t without a home for very long.
“(Rockets General Manager) Bruce (Hamilton) gave me a call and told me that they were putting me on waivers,” Farren said. “But thankfully I got a call from Dean Brockman right away letting me know the Broncos had claimed me. I was definitely excited to go back and play for Dean again. He’s been awesome to me throughout my entire career and given me plenty of opportunities to succeed. He’s always trying to find ways to give guys confidence which is so important and I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to join the Broncos.”
Farren admits there was a lingering thought in the back of his mind during 2020 that his junior career might be over because of Covid-19.
Eventually getting the green light to converge on the University of Regina, Farren took advantage of his final stint in the WHL by scoring 23 points in 24 games in a Broncos jersey.
“There’s always times you can look back and think ‘I could have worked a little harder here’ and things like that,” Farren said. “But it’s tough having so many games close together and not a lot of practice time. You try and do all the little things right but it’s definitely hard. I was fortunate to have a good season on my way out of the league and I was pretty happy with that.”
On-ice success never comes easy in the game of hockey, and while grateful to get the opportunity to play, the circumstances surrounding the season weren’t easy to navigate for everyone.
“It’s pretty hard living in a five-by-five room,” he said with a laugh. “Everyone is more comfortable at home and being out there in that situation was a little bit out of some guy’s comfort zones, but I think as time went on things got better and better for us.”
Farren’s offensive performance was what everyone on the outside saw on a game-by-game basis, but his mentorship role within the hub for the Broncos younger players was on full display over the course of the 61 days.
They say all good things must come to an end, and for Farren, that good thing ended on April 28 when Ozzy Wiesblatt scored the overtime winner in the final game of the Hub season.
“’That’s it’ I guess,” Farren said when asked on what went through his mind after the overtime goal, pausing for a moment to think. “I remember I was mad and then you get off the ice and into the dressing room and that’s where the emotions hit you. You don’t necessarily know what you’re going to be doing next year or where you’re going to be. The league does a great job in trying to prepare us for that, but I didn’t think five years was going to go by as quickly as it did.”
Farren was no stranger to being in a locker room following the final game of a season but says it’s a much different feeling when you’re one of the graduating players.
Luckily, his teammates were there to help him through the moment.
“You think you’re the only one who’s feeling that way and then you look up and see 23 other guys in there with you who are going through the same thing,” he said. “All the guys came in and started giving the 20-year-olds hugs right away. You always see the 20-year-olds crying at the end of the season and you’re the one giving them a hug, and eventually you’re the one getting the hug.”
Farren saw a lot over his 248 games in the WHL and says what he saw during his 24-game stint as a Swift Current Bronco was a team that’s on the rise.
“I think that’s a team that’s going to be contending in the next two or three years,” he stated. “They have a lot of great players that are coming up in the organization. They have a great goalie; Reid Dyck was amazing for us. There’s some serious talent up front with guys like Mathew Ward who I think is a special player and I think is going to have a lot of success in this league.”
With the season over and allowed to venture out of the University of Regina boundaries, Farren admits his first stop was a McDonald’s across the street from the University.
Now back home in the Lower Mainland, Farren has had time to decompress from the WHL season and has his sights set on the future, including his post-secondary studies.
“I going to Carleton University with Kaleb Bulych, and I think we’re going to live together too,” Farren said.
Out of one dorm room and into another, Farren packs his bags and heads to the nation’s capital to begin life after the WHL.