Those hectic weekend tournaments, the crazy travel through snow and ice, the cramped motel rooms, the overzealous parents and the endless expenses, they were all way stations on the journey that led Dave and Pam Farabee to Club Box 22 at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday night.
“When we started, we thought hockey was just something we were going to do on a Saturday afternoon,” Dave Farabee said before 19-year-old son Joel, the youngest of his three boys, played his first NHL game. “Looks like it turned into a little more than that.”
The debut of Joel Farabee, the Flyers’ No. 1 draft choice in 2018, in a 6-2 victory over Vegas marked the end of another long but not atypical hockey day for his parents.
Pam Farabee got the news Sunday morning as she drove back to their upstate New York home from Allentown, where she’d watched Joel play for the Phantoms on Saturday.
Did she have any advice for a child on the doorstep of his dream?
“Mainly, it was drive safe,” she said.
Then Monday, she and her husband headed south again, making the drive from Cicero, N.Y., north of Syracuse, to Philadelphia in 4 hours and 15 minutes.
“It was nice,” said Dave, who owns an office-supply company in upstate New York. “A beautiful day. The colors were out.”
As they spoke with a reporter before the game, Joel Farabee suddenly popped onto the ice for the debut lap that has become a Flyers rookie ritual.
“I tried not to fall. And I didn’t,” Joel said, after an NHL introduction that drew rave reviews from Flyers coach Alain Vigneault.
But his mother, who as she watched leaned against a club-box railing for support that was as much emotional as physical, nearly did.
“I’m a wreck,” said Pam, a nursing supervisor.
This was the culmination of a 17-year effort. Joel was 2 when, inspired by his older brothers, he laced up a pair of skates for the first time and took off in his siblings’ wake.
“When Joel was like 2 ½, he was already trying to keep up with our 6-year-old,” his mother said.
The family’s hockey odyssey began with Jake, 25, who would play for Connecticut College and now works in Harrisburg. Jesse Farabee, 23, plays at Division III SUNY Canton.
By the time Joel got going, they were seasoned hockey parents. According to his father, Joel took to the ice faster than his older brothers, faster than virtually all of his contemporaries.
“When he was just little, he was going backwards and all,” Dave Farabee said. “The other boys would fall. I was picking them up for about a year.”
But such precociousness offered few clues that Joel one day would land in the NHL, the 14th overall pick in last year’s draft.
“It was maybe when he was in ninth grade and had gotten recruited by Selects Academy at South Kent, a hockey school, that we started thinking, 'Wow, maybe this could happen.’ ” Dave Farabee said.
The Farabees met while both were Niagara University students. They married and settled near Syracuse, where Pam had been raised. Neither had ever played hockey or had much interest in it, though Dave had followed the Flyers while growing up in Warminster.
“We were interested in everything, but we definitely were bigger Phillies fans," he said. "In fact, my youngest son and I were at Game 5 of the 2008 World Series when the weather happened. He had to go to school so we drove back and never saw the end. But when I got to Cicero, it was more hockey and less baseball.”
Pam’s only encounter with the sport was through a brother who played.
“But it was mostly house hockey, nothing like what my boys have done,” she said. “I thought it looked like fun so when my oldest was little and said, 'I think I’m going to do hockey.’ I was OK with it. We had no idea it would evolve into what it did.”
After Monday’s game, they met with Joel, who is living temporarily in a hotel. Happy to have endured the opening-night butterflies, he said he was looking forward to a more relaxed night in Chicago when the Flyers play there Thursday night.
“It was pretty much what I was expecting,” he told reporters afterward. “Obviously, there are little, small differences here and there system-wise. Other than that, I thought I was pretty ready for the game. And as I keep going here, I’ll get more and more comfortable. … I’m looking forward now.”
And, with plenty to look backward on, the Farabees exited Club Box 22 and headed back to Cicero.