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Oh Captain, My Captain

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Bryan Helmer in action in Calder Cup Finals.
Bryan Helmer in action in Calder Cup Finals.
Photo: Chris Gluth

When Bryan Helmer signed an AHL contract with the Hershey Bears last summer, the general consensus was that it was a “depth signing”, and that Helmer, a 15-year veteran and four years removed from his last NHL stint, would spend the whole season in Chocolatetown, mentoring Hershey’s younger players before riding off into the setting sun.

However, the wily 36-year old Helmer, who last wore an NHL uniform for the “Desert Dogs”, the Phoenix Coyotes, in the 2003-2004 season, proved to be a valuable commodity in the 2008-09 season, not only for the Bears, who he captained to the Calder Cup, but also for the Washington Capitals, who utilized Helmer’s services for 12 games after a rash of injuries decimated their defensive corps.

For Helmer, who had called 11 different cities his hockey home before coming to Hershey, the 12th stop has been the most rewarding to date, both professionally and personally.

“This is by far the best hockey season I’ve ever had: to get back to the NHL, and have my son realize I was in the NHL, to be the captain of the Canadian All-Star team, and then to win the Calder Cup.”

“It’s the best feeling in the world to have my family see me play. My eight-year-old son really realizes what’s going on; not so much my four-year-old daughter, but we took a lot of video, so when she gets older, we can throw that in.”

The well-conditioned Helmer, a native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, who has already watched his hockey odometer roll over once when he eclipsed the 1,000 games played mark last season, remarkably appeared in all 22 of Hershey’s post-season contests, bringing his career total to 117, good for third place in league history, only six games behind Ken Gernander.

During the course of the recently concluded playoff season, Helmer moved up from 13th place in the rankings, surpassing former Bears Les Duff, Bob Solinger, Willie Marshall, John Stevens, Dennis Bonvie, and Mike Nykoluk.

“The body held up pretty good, actually. I have to give credit to Beaker (Bears trainer, Dan Stuck) and his staff. They did a good job on me, and I feel great. It’s incredible when you play for a franchise like this that expects you to win and puts that extra pressure on you. It’s a good feeling, and it’s even a better feeling when you win the Calder Cup.”

Known more for his dependable work in the defensive zone, Helmer pitched in with three timely goals in the Bears’ march to the cup; scoring a pair of goals when his team was down by a pair of goals (both games that Hershey eventually went on to win), and adding a last minute insurance goal in game three of the Providence series.

Bryan Helmer at Hershey Bears night at Harrisburg Senators game at Metro Bank Park on June 16.
Bryan Helmer at Hershey Bears night at Harrisburg Senators game at Metro Bank Park on June 16.
Photo: Kim Wolgemuth

At Hershey’s victory celebration on Saturday night at Giant Center, the Bears’ captain revealed to the fans that the club had a rallying cry amongst themselves all season long: E-L-E, for “Everybody Loves Everybody”, that contributed to their recipe for success.

“The guys in this dressing room, and the bond that we had between each guy, is amazing. It’s like one big family. That’s what you have to have when you win a championship. I’ve only had it twice, and I’ve won two Calder Cups with that.”

In a perfect example of what makes him such a wonderful leader, Helmer handed off a lot of the credit for the Calder Cup winning season, to his alternate captains who had previous Calder cup experience with the Chocolate and White: Graham Mink, Dean Arsene and Quintin Laing.

“Everyone kept asking me all year how I handled this team as the captain, but it was easy because I think there were probably five guys in that dressing room that could be the captain. I think they gave it to me because I was the oldest guy on the team,” joked Helmer.

“But seriously, those three guys were huge as far as helping me out; they are all winners. They made my job a lot easier because they’ve been through stuff like this before.”

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