Monday, June 21, 2010

Another Banner Year for Helmer

Hershey Bears captain, Bryan Helmer, may never see his name and number hanging from the rafters of Giant Center like Mike Nykoluk and Ralph Keller, each of whom captained the Bears to a Calder Cup Championship; but in his two year tenure at the helm, Helmer has accomplished something that neither of them will ever accomplish: leading his club to back-to-back titles.

With a strong cast from the 2009 Cup winning team returning for the 2009-10 season, the Bears were heavily favored to repeat, but Helmer said that he did not feel the heat to repeat, thanks to the returning players, and specifically to a player returning after a three-year absence, Boyd Kane.

“I didn’t feel the pressure at all," said Helmer. “When you bring in a guy like Kane, who is a proven winner, that obviously helps a whole bunch. Keith (Aucoin), Chris Bourque and Andrew Joudrey were all big helps too, because they are all good leaders in the dressing room. We had so many guys that stepped up as leaders and it made my job really easy.”

From the podium at Giant Center last week during Hershey’s championship celebration, Helmer also took the time to publicly thank some of his other helpers, the faithful fans who pack Giant Center every night, and who set another attendance record this
past season.

“One thing that we said all along every game is, ‘let’s do it for our fans’. Every single time we said that because you guys are unbelievable. Give yourselves a hand.”

Although he is the ultimate “team” player during the season, it didn’t take him long to snap into “selfish” mode after thanking the fans, repeating last year’s public lobbying to Bears President/GM Doug Yingst for another contract.

“Two years ago, Doug, I’m so glad you signed me," said Helmer. "I’m glad you signed me last year and I’d like to play here for one more year.”

The young-at-heart Helmer, who just completed his 17th professional season in fine fashion, finished the campaign with a +/- rating of +12, second in the league, but also finished the season with the warning light illuminated on his gas gauge.

“It’s funny, I was talking to Manner (Bears assistant coach, Troy Mann) on the bench there towards the end of the game of the game six. I told him I was very tired. I probably would have had enough energy left to play one more game, but I’m glad we got it over when we did.”

As a result of being involved in pro hockey for nearly two decades, Helmer has seen many changes on-ice with the advent of new equipment. Those changes also apply off of the ice, with new training methods always being sought by players looking to stay “a step ahead”, even those who will soon to be 38 years of age, like Helmer who will soon start training for what he hopes will be his 18th season in the pro ranks.

“When I was younger, I used to a lot of heavy lifting, and now I’m just trying to do a lot of quick feet stuff and keep myself going. I think as you get older, you tend to lose a step here and there, and I’m just trying to maintain it," he said. "I’ve been doing a skating treadmill for the past few years, and it’s helped me out a lot and I’ll do it again this summer.”

Retirement is in the not-too-distant future for Helmer, but if he has his way, he would like to postpone that thought for at least another year and pursue chance to attain a “three-peat” in the best city in the American Hockey League.

“It kinda hard to top that (back-to-back titles); maybe I should retire while I’m on top," joked Helmer. "But seriously, I’d love to play one more year and finish my career here. It’s a great hockey town. I’ve got some individual goals I’d like to reach and I’d love to have a chance to make it three in a row.”

**Photo courtesy of JUSTSPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY**

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