Friday, January 21, 2011

AHL Veteran Bryan Helmer Discusses Oklahoma And His Record Breaking Night With The Voice Of Sport

AHL Veteran Bryan Helmer Was
Reunited With Hershey Teammate
Alex Giroux in Oklahoma City
(Kathryn Hedrick/Flickr)
After spending the entire summer and the first half of the hockey season waiting for a contract offer, AHL veteran Bryan Helmer finally got the call he was waiting for in early January - he was on his way back to the league with the Oklahoma City Barons.

Only seven points away from becoming the all-time points leader for defencemen in the AHL, the countdown to John Slaney’s 519 career points was on... Bryan’s family, friends, and fans did not have to wait long for the record to fall. On January 13th, in his fourth game with the Oklahoma City Barons, he scored two goals and added an assist in a 7-2 win over the Peoria Rivermen; Helmer tied and surpassed Slaney’s record all in one night and the AHL record book needed a rewrite.

“It’s been crazy, I couldn’t believe how quickly I got the record,” Helmer said on the phone from Rockford where the Barons were preparing for a Friday evening match-up against the IceHogs. “It’s been amazing!”

“It really hasn’t sunk in for me yet, it may take until the summer. It’s funny though, my GM down here came up to me the other day and said, ‘The Hockey Hall of Fame called and they want some of your stuff from when you got the record’ and I was like, what? That’s pretty cool!”

It is tough joining a new organization, especially half-way through a season, as teams have already battled their way through the first 40 games of the schedule, but Helmer found some familiar faces on the Barons roster when he arrived. He is settling in and happy with his teammates, he is also enjoying his time in Oklahoma City as well.

“I played with Alex Giroux (in Hershey) and I knew the coach here (Todd Nelson), and the guys made me feel right at home as soon as I got here,” Helmer explained. “It’s a young team and a team that hasn’t won in the past, but I think they are starting to get that winning feeling because as of late, we have been doing really well - It’s a good fit for me. I had never been to Oklahoma City, so when I got there, I saw that it is a very nice city and they have a really nice rink too, they’ve done a good job here.”

Bryan Helmer
Oklahoma City Barons
(Steven Christy Photography)
A three-time Calder Cup champion, Helmer brings veteran leadership and a never-quit attitude to the Barons. While he is new to the team, he is ready to step in as a leader when it is required and help the team make a push for a playoff position. The Barons are third in the AHL’s West Division, only three points behind the division leading Rivermen. With 11 points in his first eight games, he has already made an impact on the ice and not surprisingly, in the dressing room too.

“It’s funny, after the second game I played; I kind of stood up and said some stuff. I was like, I haven’t been here very long, and I don’t know if I should do this but I’m going to do it anyways. I’m a competitive guy and I want to win, so it just kind of came out of me. As soon as I got here, the coaches said do what you have to and if you have to say something, say it because these guys will listen to you. It’s a young group but they definitely listen and they definitely want to win. It’s amazing in our division how tight it is, you get on a little roll here and we could be right back up there in first place.”

While he is enjoying Oklahoma City, his teammates on the Barons, and the opportunity to be back on the ice, there is a business side to the game of hockey. Helmer is on a 25-game PTO contract and so his wife Pam and two children are still in Ontario. A dedicated husband and father, it can be tough at times to be so far from home.

“I signed a 25-game tryout, so they have 25 games to decide what they want to do. If something doesn’t happen, then I am a free agent again and maybe I can sign with someone else.”

“It’s definitely hard I can tell you that,” explained Bryan. “This is the first time we have done something like this. Calling home and hearing the kids crying because I’m not there is pretty tough - they seem to really miss me when they go to bed, but it would be too hard to pull them out of school now and so we decided we’d try to get through this. Pam has been great and very supportive!”

Now that Helmer has surpassed John Slaney’s career point mark, there is another milestone within reach; 1,000 career games in the AHL. (Bryan is a wonderful guy and will never say this himself, so I will... In the 75-year history in the AHL, his accomplishments are becoming legendary - There is no doubt in my mind that when he hangs up his skates, he will be heading to the AHL Hall of Fame!)

“I am definitely looking forward to that (the 1,000th game). I worked it out and I think it is going to happen in Abbotsford. I wish it could happen at home in Oklahoma City but I just want to get it, no matter where it happens. It will be a huge milestone, there are only six other guys that have played 1,000 games in the American League, so it’s pretty cool.”

And how about receiving an invite to join the AHL Hall of Fame I asked?

“Well, I mean, it would be pretty cool - just to be in a group like that. Where I came from out of Tier II Junior, it’s pretty neat. It would definitely be an accomplishment. I always tell young guys, when they think that they are going to be done; I had a lots of people tell me to come back to my hometown, play Junior B there. I was like, no, I’m just going to stay in Wellington, play another year and see what happens. Thank God I did because it worked out for me.”

Bryan Arrives In Chesterville, Ontario
With The Calder Cup
(August 2010 - Photo TVOS)
Interviews with Bryan here at The Voice of Sport always receive a tremendous amount of support from hockey fans in Hershey and Washington (Thanks Emily and Kathryn for spreading the word), and I always share messages and comments from Bears fans with him. While there is obviously a business side to professional hockey as I have mentioned, there is also a personal side too; Bryan and his family enjoyed their time as part of the Hershey Bears family.

“I had two great years there and I met a lot of nice people. I’ve gotten a lot of emails, text messages and voice mails from a lot of people in Hershey. I have always said for the last two years, that they are the best fans in the AHL and I still stand by that. To come out and support the team the way they did, it’s pretty impressive. I definitely miss that part, but now it’s a new chapter in my hockey career and I’m moving on, but definitely, the last two years were great years in my career and in my life. I definitely want to say hello to everyone down in Hershey!”

Heading into tonight’s game against Rockford, Bryan has 524 career points and is ten games away from 1,000 career games in the AHL. With his point totals so far this season, I suggested maybe he should go for 600 career points - he laughed but didn’t say no...

I often tell people that there are still role models in the sports world and that Bryan Helmer is at the top of the list - Congratulations Bryan on your return to the AHL and your record-breaking performances!

As I work on editing this article, the Barons game is underway and Bryan has an assist on the first goal for Oklahoma City... Are you sure you are not aiming for 600 points?

Way to go Bryan!!

Image Resources:
Steven Christy Photography

Kathryn Hedrick

Thank you Steven and Kathryn!

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