What does a Minor-League non-prospect (at 37 years old) have to do with the Caps? Sure, Bryan Helmer played 12 games for Washington last year; and has totaled 146 games in his 17-year pro-hockey career – but why should Caps fans care about a minor-league, low-in-the-depth-chart, defenseman? I’ll tell you why.
Bryan Helmer is incredibly significant to Washington, yet most Caps fans don’t realize it. My first point is the letter on his sweater. Bryan is the Bears’ Captain, and has been for going on 2 seasons now. Leading a group of kids young enough to be your own kids takes big cahones. Having them buy into your style and listen to you takes leadership qualities that can’t be taught. The experience Helmer has gained in 17 seasons of mostly AHL (speckled with some NHL) play is invaluable. He understands the highs and lows of recalls and reassignments. He knows how it feels to be on a very successful team (with Calder Cup rings) and how it feels to miss the playoffs. He keeps the team in check when they get too high on success and brings them back up when they get to low on themselves. Helmer is a life-coach, father, quirky-uncle, best friend, and big brother all rolled in to one. Young players learning to live on their own for the first time as well as veterans winding their careers down hold him in the same regard.
(pic courtesy of capsinpictures.com)
The Hershey community also thinks very highly of Helmer. At the beginning of this season, Bryan Helmer approached the Hershey Bears’ staff wanting to purchase 2 seats with full-season ticket plans and donate them to the Children’s Hospital at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, with his own money. Helmer's thought was that a kid facing a serious disease deserved the chance to come to a hockey game with a parent or guardian, take in the atmosphere, and then meet Helmer and have him take them on a tour of the Bears’ locker room (and send them off with an autographed souvenir). When Pepsi heard about Helmer’s idea, they decided to take the cost off of Helmer’s hands and sponsor the program. It’s been a huge success so far, and the kids from the Children’s Hospital really seem to enjoy the experience.
Right, I get it. All that stuff is great, and the last part gives you the warm-and-fuzzies, but that’s about it. But wait, there’s more!
Helmer is the steadying “stay-at-home” blue-liner in Hershey. With that role, he’s paired with the youngest most inexperienced defensemen to mentor them into what Washington hopes they’ll become. While a coach can’t be out on the ice with the young guys in game situations, Helmer can. Before the Alzner/Carlson pair came about this season, there were the Helmer/Alzner and the Helmer/Carlson pairings last season (the latter coming in the playoffs and the beginning of the current season). This season Helmer has frequently been paired with prospects such as Patrick McNeill and Zack Miskovic. If Helmer’s contract with Hershey is extended, you can expect him to be paired with prospects such as Dimitri Orlov in the future. By playing alongside a seasoned vet, these guys learn things that make them more poised to handle themselves in an NHL game on recall, and help lay the foundation to make them better players once they’ve finally “made it” to The Show.
So while people in Washington may not find Hershey-only signings very significant – keep your eye out for news about Helmer being signed to an extension in Hershey. We’re all hoping for it up here in Chocolatetown, and I think you should be hoping for it too – since he’s mentoring the defensive future in DC.