May 20, 2009

Darren Helm: The Modern Day Eddie Mazur

The Darren Helm story is quite interesting.

A standout junior player with Medicine Hat in the WHL and Team Canada at the WJC, Helm has clearly shown he is ready for the NHL. His defensive game and physical games are surprisingly competent if not complete for such a young player. He has the speed and tenacity. He could be a third liner on most teams in this league. With a weaker team he may even have a chance to be a goal scorer that his background suggests he could be.

But he can't crack the deep Detroit line up. In each of his first two professional seasons he was called up late, playings in 7 and 16 regular season games respectively, never scoring a goal and picking up just one assist.

That is hardly impressive, but in 2008 he played in 18 playoff games and got his name on the Stanley Cup. So far this season he has played in 13 playoff games, and counting, as the Red Wings challenge to repeat their championship.

Helm certainly has not looked out of place, and seems destined one day to replace Kirk Maltby. Oh, and in those two long playoff runs he's scored four goals and six points.

Only one other player in NHL history has scored his first four NHL goals in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It turns out that player has a lot of other similarities, too.

Darren Helm, meet Eddie Mazur.

This is Eddie Mazur's 1954-55 Parkhurst rookie card.

Nicknamed Spider, the gangling Mazur was a useful utility player, able to play both wings and on defense. In parts of six NHL seasons he mostly played on left wing, using his slick stick handling to keep a 3rd or 4th line role with the Montreal Canadiens and briefly with the Chicago Blackhawks late in his career.

Mazur's first NHL season was in 1953-54, but he was already a test NHL veteran even before playing in his first regular season game.

While playing with Victoria (PCHL/WHL) and Buffalo (AHL) in the minor leagues Mazur was called up by the Canadiens were called up for the Stanley Cup finals. In fact, he had scored four goals and six points in 14 playoff games, had played in three consecutive Stanley Cup winning games, won the 1953 Stanley Cup and therefore was included in the 1953 NHL All Star game, before playing in the regular season.

His favorite memory will always be the Stanley Cup win in 1953, where he set up the winning goal while playing with goal scorer Elmer Lach and the great Rocket Richard.

"I remember the play because I carried the puck down the left wing and backhanded it on the net. It went in behind and then Milt Schmidt tried to shoot it out and it went to Elmer and he scored. I didn't get an assist on it but I remember Dick (Coach Dick Irvin) thought I should have. That's when Rocket jumped on Elmer and broke his nose. I was standing right there."

That moment was definitely Mazur's dream come true.

"When I was in junior high school I was the sports editor of our school paper. I was a Canadiens fan and I wrote once how great it would be to play on a line with Elmer Lach and Maurice Richard. And four or five years later, I did. And I was on the ice with the two of them when we scored a Stanley Cup winning goal. Imagaine that. Incredible."

Needless to say, it made for one of the more curious careers in NHL history. But the Winnipeg native finally stuck with the Habs in 1953-54. It would be his only full NHL season. He scored just 7 goals and 21 points, adding just three assists in 11 playoff games.

Mazur returned the next season, but an early season knee injury ended his season. He reappeared with Chicago for 15 games in 1956-57, but essentially became a minor league star for the remaining 9 years in his long hockey career.

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