Monday, January 28, 2013
Helmer Marches On!
When the news flashed across the screens recently that Bryan Helmer had signed with the Springfield Falcons to play hockey, it came as no surprise to hockey observers in the Quinte area. We have followed Helmer’s career for the past several years.
By no means was the start to his hockey career auspicious. He had been invited to the Belleville Bulls’ training camp in 1989. Both he and Tod Lavender were asked to clean their lockers after a few exhibition games. Helmer decided to join Tod in Wellington, and moved into the Lavender home, perhaps for the weekend. He seemed to enjoy Diane’s cooking, and Garry’s wit. He stayed four years.
As the announcer/scorekeeper and occasional timer, I had a front row seat for all of Hermy’s games. From the very start, he appeared to be a man among the kids. He was taller, stronger, and had great hockey instincts. Throughout his career in the Metro Juniour Hockey League, he was an all star. Most of us could not fathom why Larry Mavety, the coach of the Bulls, had no interest in Helmer. We looked at it, from a Dukes’ perspective, as their loss, our gain.
From that moment on, we have followed Helmer’s career with great interest. No matter where he played, it was always an experience he relished. Never once did he take the situation for granted. Throughout his career, he knew he was playing a kid’s game, and getting paid for it. The journey has taken him far and wide in the hockey circles, for almost 25 years.
I heard from Bryan a couple of days ago. “I’m very excited about playing my 20th year (as a professional hockey player). I am so lucky to play this long.” Most of us who know Bryan, luck has little to do with it. Just plain hard work.
We went to see Bryan play in Montreal when he was with the St. Louis Blues. I spoke with coach Joel Quenneville after the game, and he said that he was very pleased with Helmer’s game. We waited for some time to meet Helmer after the game. He was winding down on the stationary bike for almost fifteen minutes. He was thrilled to meet family and friends, with a large contingent from the Winchester area. Habs Hall of Famer Larry Robinson also hails from Winchester, and was Helmer’s idol from day one.
Helmer made the quantum leap from the Wellington Dukes to the American Hockey League Albany River Rats to begin his pro career. He spent five years with the Rats before moving on. And move he did, year after year: Las Vegas, Worcester, Phoenix, St. Louis, Worcester again, and then Vancouver. Take a deep breath, I’m not finished.
Kansas City, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Springfield, Phoenix, Grand Rapids, San Antonio, Hershey, Washington, Oklahoma City, and Springfield again. Simply doing what he loved, and, yes thanks, I will take a pay cheque.
I can assure you that no matter where he played, he was loved. He did what it takes to help in the communities in which he played. He visited hospitals and schools, signed a million autographs, posed for photographs. Always the consummate professional. On several occasions, he has been selected as team captain, by his teammates.
Helmer often returns to Wellington for the Garry Lavender Memorial Golf tournament. When the old Duke Dome was put to rest, and the Essroc Centre opened in Wellington, he made a special trip to the village to drop the puck, before continuing his career in Oklahoma City.
Every time he steps on the ice, he adds to his record of playing more games than any other defenceman in the AHL. With 563 helpers, he has assisted on more goals than any other defenceman in the history of the league. Only two other individuals, Willie Marshall and Fred Glover played more seasons in the AHL, one more than Hermy. We will not be surprised to see him in uniform again next season, likely in the AHL.