Editors note: I interviewed Ben Farhi earlier this week. Ben has been a long time reader and contributor to DobberHockey, and he now finds himself in San Francisco working in a management role witht the ECHL's San Francisco Bulls. We talked about his experiences in pro hockey, what he thinks of San Francisco, and even how DobberHockey has helped him out at his current gig.
Angus: What have your experiences in San Francisco been like so far? Have there been any big surprises?
Farhi: I will always call London, Ontario my home but San Francisco is an unbelievable city. I never planned to live nor ever imagined myself living in a big city. I grew up in St. Thomas, Ontario on a large property backed up to a ravine, spent all my summers fishing up in Wharncliffe, Ontario near the Sue, and have lived the rest of my life in London where a population of 340,000 was getting a little too high for my own liking.
Since moving here though I've fallen in love. The Bay Area has everything you can think of: the ocean, beaches, hills, beautiful architecture, (shameless plug) the San Francisco Bulls and a plethora of major league sports teams, great bars, beautiful people... the list can go on and on. Moving to a big city I was a little intimidated to drive - I hate driving in Toronto. By the time my car was shipped down I was familiar enough with my surroundings and really surprised at how amazing the roads and highways have been laid out around the Bay Area - you can be anywhere you want to be in 15 minutes.
The one thing I miss are thunderstorms (family and friends too!). The weather here is bizarre - what is it that they say?
Tell people a bit about the Bulls – their history, how they came to be, and so on.
The San Francisco Bulls have and always will be the brain child of our President, GM, and Head Coach Pat Curcio (pictured below). He's been hungry to control his own team for a few years now. He and my father, Shmuel Farhi, became close friends back home in London when he was an assistant coach for the Knights - he would always let my little brother (now seven years old) into the dressing room to see the boys after every game and my dad was grateful.
Move forward a couple of years: Pat and his wife, Elouise, were actually vacationing in SF - they happened to come across the Cow Palace. That's when wonder turned into belief, belief turned into research, research turned into hiring, hiring turned into a staffed office, then came a $2 million dollar scoreboard we call "the cube", followed by a fresh sheet of ice and the hockey players. Without Patty, San Francisco would be without a professional hockey team. And after 16 years of going without it I think its high-time we serve up the people of Frisco with some hard hitting hockey entertainment.
Has being located in San Francisco made it easier to sign players to come and play for the Bulls?
When it comes to signing on to play for a new team I certainly think there are some players out there that take location into consideration. I personally think San Francisco qualifies as one of the best cities in the world to live in. So far the boys love it. We all live in Park Merced - two minutes away from the ocean, 10 minutes away from the arena.
I'd attribute all of our signings to Pat Curcio though. He is so well received in the hockey community - he knows a lot of people in the business, and has made and maintained his connections with a plethora of agents and CHL and NCAA teams
Is San Francisco a hockey town? If not, can it be made into one?
I think so. The Bay Area is a Major League sports market and I think with the recent successes we've seen throughout the West Coast at the NHL level (Sharks, Kings, Ducks) the market has slowly become hockey hungry. Early on our research showed that there were upwards of 600 San Franciscans making the 45 minute trip to SJ for a Sharks game. Attendance-wise we're sitting pretty at 6th in the league with an average of 5,619 fans a game. For a brand new team I'd say that's a big win for us!
The Bulls are an affiliate with the San Jose Sharks. What has that relationship been like?
The relationship with the Sharks has been a good one so far! Wayne Thomas has been great – he is a really nice guy. He comes out to practices and games and looks after our goalies: Heemskerk and Nelson (both SJ prospects). With the lockout happening there is an influx of talent creeping down the pipelines. The Sharks have already sent us AHL caliber players. It’s a win-win for both of us. An affiliation goes a long way for our marketing team too - obviously it has helped boost our ticket sales. Being so close to the Shark Tank (about 45 minutes down the highway) we know fans will come out to watch future Shark players develop here at the Cow Palace.
What is your role with the team?
Long story short: I am Vice President (on the business side) & Assistant Director of Hockey Operations (on the hockey side). The plan for me was to move to San Francisco after I graduated and learn: dip my nose into every area of the business and help out where ever help was needed – the plan has been for my father and I to invest into an NHL franchise within the next 10 years - and I want to know exactly how a team is managed before committing to a larger investment. Anyways, just as I was about to move down here, ownership voted me in as Vice President of the team thereby giving me the responsibility of serving as liaison between ownership and management.
Day-to-day, I keep one eye on our finances (we’ve already set a merchandise sales record for the ECHL), contribute to game-day operations, help look after player personnel, and do what I can to keep our social media buzzing (don't forget to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
I’m starting to contribute to the hockey side of the business now – helping Patty with the hockey operations side of the business: booking flights, busses, shuttles, hotels, making sure the players are happy and well taken care of, etc. It’s a bitter-sweet business. Being around a pro hockey team every day is a dream come true, but it’s tough letting players go – they are all great kids and I’m learning firsthand how much of a toll this lockout is taking on the boys – it’s a shame really, we’ve had to let go of top notch individuals in an effort to accommodate for players that should be playing at a higher level. I’ve gotten to know each one pretty well, and it hurts when you have to drive them to the airport and say your goodbyes - I make sure to stay in touch with as many as I can.
On game days you can find me sitting up in a press box serving as an “eye in the sky” – by the end of a game I normally have around four to five pages of game notes that I leave on Patty’s desk – a big thanks to the Dobber community for helping me sharpen my scouting skills over the years.
How have NHL players (specifically Ryane Clowe) been received in San Francisco?
He has been well received here. Bay area fans know their hockey and he has reciprocated the reception by displaying an utmost regard for the team and the city. He brings a lot to the table. Being an expansion team - we have more than a few rookies on the squad. The boys learn something new every time Clowe into the dressing room and skate onto the ice. He knows how to play the game at the highest level and has a lot to offer our guys on and off the ice.
Clowe is sort of a big deal around the Bay Area – everyone on Dobber knows what kind of player he is but as mean as he is on the ice he is as nice a guy off it. He’s been helping Patty and the rest of the coaching staff out with strategy, lines, tactics, etc. He’s been really helpful in that respect and the fans seem to be loving the fact that he’s been standing behind the bench next to Patty when we play at home. He really is a beauty.
Asides from the NHLers, who are some players to watch for on the Bulls?
Patty put a typical Canadian-styled team together here in SF. If you’re playing for the Bulls you are going to either be hitting, fighting, or scoring. Pick any player on our team and plug their name into the hockey data base – they either led their team last year in scoring or in penalty minutes. Guys like Bowers, Guimond, Oullette, Morrison, Sivak, Viedensky and Baker are all capable of turning the game around for us offensively. Then you’ve got our work-horses: Belan, Clendenning, Langdon, Tam, King, Crescenzi, Devane, Whitney, Frank and Benson – you’ll see these guys throwing their weight around each and every shift, diving in front of 90 mile-an-hour clappers the same way an eight year old dives in front of a stress ball during a game of mini-sticks, and when called upon not one of them would hesitate to drop the gloves with an eerie smile on their face.
We are a young team with a lot of promise. We truly believe that every player on our team has the ability to move up to a higher level – we’re not in the business of accommodating guys that are happy to settle for an ECHL career; if you are playing for the Bulls you are giving 110% day in and day out in an effort to get yourself to the next level.
They say that the first year is never easy. But win or lose we know we’ve got a special group of guys here – from the players to the staff in the dressing room and front office – we all realize we’ve got something special in the palm of our hands. We are all thankful for this opportunity and are going to keep working hard and enjoy every day that we are here – nothing beats working in and around the sport of hockey.
Thanks for the interview, Ben. and check the Bulls website out for more information.