Monday, June 15, 2009


Bryan Helmer-Calder Cup Winner Again!

Last Friday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins won game seven of the Stanley Cup final to defeat the Detroit Red Wings. You knew that.

Bryan Helmer did not watch that game. He is a keen hockey fan. His hockey career began twenty years ago. He has played more than a hundred games in the National Hockey League. You would think that he would be glued to a television set to watch the NHL final. But he had his own little piece of business to take care of that evening.

He is the captain of the Hershey Bears. Last Friday night while Cookie, Sidney and Company were disposing of the Red Wings, Helmer and his mates were in Manitoba to take care of the Moose. It was game six of their final for the American Hockey League Championship.

I spoke with the former Wellington Duke on Sunday, after their Saturday night celebration in Hershey. “They had seven thousand people at the arena. It was awesome. It certainly was a major highlight in my career.

We really wanted to beat them at home in game five. But we ran into a hot goalie, and so we had to go to Winnipeg to finish the series. We knew we could beat them because we were really playing well.”

Helmer also extended congratulations to another former Duke, and fellow Pennsylvanian, Matt Cooke. So the state ended up with the two major professional hockey championships in one night: Cookie with the Penguins and Helmer with the Bears.

“When I signed with the Bears at the beginning of the season, I knew that expectations were high. What I did not expect was that the team players would select me as their captain, in my first season there. It was truly an honour.” When I reminded him that he had also been selected as captain of the All Star team, he replied, in his usual modest way, “Yes, that was pretty special too!”

He would like to play again next year in Hershey. But the contract papers are still on the table, and the pens are still in the ink wells.

“It was a great experience playing in Hershey,” he recently told the Bears staff write Jim Starr. “When I came to Hershey as a visitor, it was always tough to play in this town and head home with a win. The fans really are the seventh player on the ice. Their cheers and support pull a little more out of each player.”

“Hermy” became a Wellington Duke in the fall of 1989. He had been at the Belleville Bulls camp, but did not impress coach Larry Mavety enough to keep him in Belleville. He made the trip across the Bay Bridge with Tod Lavender, and became an unofficial Lavender from that moment on. He played more than two hundred games for the Dukes, and is always the most popular alumni at Dukes’ events.

He made the quantum leap to the Albany River Rats from the Dukes, and has visited almost every hockey arena in North America since that time. He has played for four NHL teams: Canucks, Coyotes, Blues, and Capitals.

His minor league travels are truly impressive: Las Vegas, Worcester, Kansas City, Winnipeg, Springfield, Grand Rapids, and San Antonio.

Dan Steinberg writes a sports blog for the Washington Post. He interviewed Bryan recently, following Helmer’s latest shuffle between the NHL and the minors. Helmer’s seven year old son Cade was “pretty pumped” about having his dad play in the NHL once again.

Steinberg asked Helmer how he prepares for the shuffle. Helmer’s approach? “I always say, as long as you have your wallet and your cell phone, you can pretty much buy whatever, if you forget something. And your passport.” He also packs three changes of clothing.

Helmer can still play the game, at any level. He proved that this past year-to himself, and to his family. “I made it back to the NHL. And my family got to see me play. That was my goal. I love my job, and I love coming to the rink. If it has to be in the minors, it’s gonna be in the minors. If it’s up here (in the NHL), it’s a bonus.”

Wherever he plays, Helmer spends many afternoons touring hospitals to put smiles on kids’ faces. He is a great ambassador for the game. And now, for the second time, a Calder Cup Champion.

James Hurst

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