Jim Farelli was a late bloomer. He didn’t play much hockey as a kid growing up in Northern Ontario, but as a teenager he caught on to the game quickly and because of his rugged style of play he caught the attention of some junior teams.
He got his feet wet with the Kitchener-Waterloo Greenshirts of the Ontario Hockey Association in the 1951-52 season, the same year the Pembroke Memorial Centre opened. Over the next three seasons, he would move around, playing junior in Sault Ste. Marie, Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Valleyfield, Quebec and Seattle. By the 1954-55 season he was ready to become a professional, earning the last spot on the Cleveland Barons roster. Playing in the American Hockey League, Farelli suited up for 97 games over two seasons with the Barons, putting up 66 points and 208 penalty minutes, but the following season, Cleveland traded Farelli to the Buffalo Bisons. In Buffalo, he was let go after 21 games, spending the rest of his career in various minor and senior hockey leagues.
In the 1957-58 season he signed with the Pembroke Senior Lumber Kings, but after a year in Pembroke he made his way back to Northern Ontario where he ended his career playing with the Sault Ste. Marie Thunderbirds in the Eastern Professional Hockey League. When the team was re-located to the United States, Farelli hung up his skates, but he didn’t leave the game.
In the mid 1960’s Farelli bought a junior B team in the Soo and coached them for five years. He won a championship with the club in one of those seasons, but stepped away from the game to start selling cars. He was back behind a bench by the early 1970’s when the fledgling Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey Association tapped him to take the reins of their major junior team. On his Greyhounds roster was his son Cary Farelli, who was known as the “wonder kid” because of his scoring prowess . The younger Farelli was the top scorer on the team with 125 points in the 1973-74 season, but it wasn’t enough to save his Dad’s job. Mid way through the 1974 season, Farelli was fired. He returned to the car business and waited for a new opportunity to return to coaching. It came seven years later in Pembroke.
In the late 1970’s Farelli accepted a car sales manager position in Pembroke. It meant he was in the neighbourhood as the Lumber Kings went through a disastrous two seasons following a financial crisis that resulted in an ownership change and a name change to the Pembroke Royals. By the time the 1981-82 season rolled around, Farelli would be behind the bench with a mission to restore the franchise to its winning ways. In fact, he guaranteed Lumber Kings owner Ann Cochrane, that the team would make the playoffs in his first season. Given the fact the team had won only 22 games in two seasons before his arrival, it was a bold statement, but Farelli delivered!
In his first season, the Lumber Kings won the league championship. Over eight years behind the bench, Farelli brought Pembroke six championships and in all eight years, the Lumber Kings made the league final. His teams produced some of the best players the league had ever seen including Luc Chabot who destroyed the league scoring records, including a 101 goal season and Peter White who put up an astounding 226 points in a single season. Several of his players made it to the National Hockey League including White, Mike Eastwood and Jim Montgomery.
As a coach, Farelli was tough, but unlike his playing days, in the players he coached he chose skill over brawn. His teams were fast and loaded with talent. He was known for a short bench, often playing his top two lines for most of the game. It allowed his elite players to put up astronomical scoring statistics, and helped him become one of the most successful coaches in league history.
He coached 430 regular season games for the Kings, compiling a record of 280 wins, 127 losses and 23 ties. He recorded 83 playoff wins. His team competed in the Centennial Cup playdowns six times and hosted the national championship in the spring of 1988. One of the most thrilling games in his coaching career came in a round robin game that his Kings won in overtime versus the Notre Dame Hounds, but unfortunately his club was out of gas when it lost to the Hounds the following night in the Semi-final. That loss was one of his greatest disappointments. He desperately wanted to win Pembroke’s first national junior hockey championship.
Following the 1988-89 season, Farelli left for Italy to join his son Cary who had played in Europe for many years. Coaching a senior hockey team was a different ballgame, and after struggling to win games, Farelli called it a day and returned to his home in Petawawa where he took on a role with the Central Junior Hockey League as an administrator and convenor. While at a meeting in Brockville in the spring of 1997, Farelli suffered a massive stroke while walking to his car. He was rushed to hospital where he remained for several weeks, but never regained consciousness, passing away on May 12, 1997 at 65 years of age.
On Sunday, February 16th, prior to their home game against the Brockville Braves, the Pembroke Lumber Kings will honour their winningest coach posthumously with a special banner raising ceremony. Farelli’s family and friends will be at the game for the ceremony and all of his former players are also invited to attend as the Kings remember one of the greatest coaches in Lumber Kings history.