August 05, 2013

Bryan Helmer: At The Helm

Bryan Helmer became a hockey legend not so much in the NHL but rather in the American Hockey League where he spent the majority of his lengthy hockey career. He won the Calder Cup championship twice en route to becoming the AHL’s all-time leading scorer amongst defencemen with 562 points. He also sits third all-time in AHL games played with 1147.

Helmer also got into 146 games in the NHL with the Phoenix Coyotes, St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals. All told Helmer, who is Matt Carkner's brother in law, played 20 seasons of professional hockey.

You do not last in professional hockey for 20 years without being a survivor. Helmer intimately knows what being a real survivor means. When Helmer was only 18 months old when he had a cancerous tumour removed.

After those scary days as a toddler Helmer grew up like so many other Canadian kids. He was raised on a farm and natural patches of ice were easy for him and his friends to find. They played the game informally and endlessly, developing their skills almost unknowingly.

It paid off for Bryan Helmer. Soon he was off to the Wellington Dukes team near Belleville, Ontario to play junior hockey.

Helmer almost quit hockey rather than return to the Tier II Junior A league as a 20 ear old. He considered working on a dairy farm back home and giving up on his big league hockey dreams. After all, he still was not playing major junior hockey and he had been passed over in NHL drafts.

But he returned and persevered. The New Jersey Devils offered him a free agent contract to play for their AHL farm team for the 1993-94 season.

"I was going to go to the University of Guelph to play," Helmer recalled. "Only a few from that league were offered pro tryouts. But it was a no-brainer to give it a shot.

Showing up at that first professional training camp was such a highlight for Helmer.

"I grew up as a big Montreal Canadiens fan. Two of the first people I saw standing right in front of me when I walked into the dressing room for [the Devils] training camp were Claude Lemieux and Stephane Richer. Larry Robinson was an assistant coach. I was overwhelmed."

Helmer made the AHL team and though life in that league is for the vagabonds he would stick basically for the next 20 years.

Helmer retired in the summer of 2013 and took a job as an assistant coach with the Peterborough Petes.

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