Friday, October 9, 2015

Size doesn"t matter with Robby Fabbri

By Larry Wigge

As quick as a strike of lightning, Robby Fabbri darted through the offensive zone and took a no-look, behind-the-back pass from center Jori Lehtera and put the puck high into the Edmonton net to break a 1-1 tie and give the St. Louis Blues a 3-1 opening-night victory.

"I came off the bench and I saw the play there," an excited Fabbri said. I wasn't sure if (Lehtera) saw or heard me, so for him to make that play, it was an amazing pass."

Such poise for a 19-year-old kid with stardom in his NHL future.

Deep inside of every great athlete there beats the heart of a champion. Some of those players you have to dig very deeply to find that heartbeat ... that skill that makes them tick.

There's something ticking inside of Fabbri's soul.

You see every tool that he has in his tool chest: Good speed. An attack mode that others would love to mold. He plays hard and goes into the tough areas. He's a player who takes the initiative to be a factor in winning.

Voila! Some inside information ...

"Robby loved doing whatever his big brother Lenny did, so from a very young age you could always find Robby at the arena watching his big brother play hockey," Robby"s mother Stef says. "When Robby was finally enrolled in a skating program, the instructor wanted all the kids to follow the leader and pick up the stuffed animals that had been placed on the ice ... ”

She added: "That was short lived, because all Robby wanted to do was pick up a plastic hockey stick and skate around pretending that he was playing hockey."

Tick. Tick. Tick.

From there, you get from the too small tag Fabbri -- 5'10, 170 pounds -- had going against him when he was expected to be drafted somewhere between pick 15 and pick 20 in the 2014 NHL draft, after scoring 87 points in his second season in the Ontario Hockey League and being named MVP of the OHL playoffs after scoring another 28 points in 16 games. Actually, the Mississauga, Ontario, native, was selected No 21 by the Blues.

On October 8 in St. Louis, Len and Stef, Fabbri's parents in attendance.

Len recalls his son regularly took a transistor radio to bed in order to listen to call of the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds in their hometown.

Forget about the too-small, too-slow excuses that scouts normally use.

Too small? From recently retired Martin St. Louis (former NHL MVP in 2004, to winner of the Hart Trophy as leading scorer in the NHL in 2004 and again in 2013 in his years in Tampa Bay) to Zach Parise, Jordan Eberele, Ryan Callahan, Brian Gionta and Jeff Skinner.

"I really enjoy watching Jeff Skinner," Fabbri said. "Actually, I try to model my game after him. He's not a big guy, like me. Watching him, I've been able to see a few things that I can add to my game for my advantage."

You do whatever it takes to makes you into the best you can be.

"I think that I've adjusted well," Fabbri says. "I've competed hard and haven't shied away from the physical part of the game ... so I've been able to hold my own against them."

It's sometimes hard to get young players to open up, but Fabbri is a super intelligent player.

He said, "Getting the chance to play against those guys has been great for my experience and just knowing that I can compete with them is a confidence booster for sure."

The confident athlete added that none of this could have come without hard work during the summer months last year and this year.

"I worked for three months building myself up," Fabbri said. "In addition to the work on the ice with Alex Pietrangelo and some of the local members of the team, came eating right. I can thank Nelson Ayotte (strength and conditioning coach) for that."

Fabbri had grown to 5'll, 175 pounds.

After the opening-night success, Pietrangelo chimed in on the former first-round pick, "The amount of skill he has, he's going to make plays. Robby's going to make an impact night-in, night-out. It's a great pass by Jori though -- hopefully he gets more of those. Those are easy ones though, a goal scorer like that."

"He's a tenacious player," Blues G.M. Doug Armstrong said. "He's got a lot of what we like to call 'gamesmanship.' A little bit undersized, but it doesn't hold him back.

"When a player performs like he did in the Memorial Cup and through that tournament, it shows a lot about his character and his will to win."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock had an idea of what Fabbri was capable of after talking to his former junior coach, Guelph Storm's Scott Walker, a former NHLer.

"I talked to Scott Walker, and he said, 'He'll shock you how good he is and how competitive he is, how much he rises to the occasion,' " Hitchcock said. "It's not the play so much. It's this moxie on the ice.

"Sometimes he does things that a 35-year-old does. Not an 19-year-old."

Walker continues, "If he were a few inches taller, he'd be in the top five of the draft. I understand the NHL's love of size, that all things being equal, an NHL team will always take the bigger player. But you can’t do anything about size ...

"He wants to be a winner, pressure doesn’t seem to bother him."

"It's an inspiration, the game's not all about size," Fabbri said. "When you have small guys with big heart and grit, it's equal to being six-foot-five, when you're not scared to go into corners and play bigger than your size."

Going into a corner, Robby Fabbri will no doubt dig the puck out and send a no-look, backhanded pass to another member of the Blues in years to come.

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