Helmer back for more
If everyone wore their age as their jersey number, there would be a lot of confusion with all the low-20s on the ice, but you could still pick out defenseman Bryan Helmer in his No. 40.
In his 20th season as a professional and 19th in the AHL, Helmer is suiting up for the Springfield Falcons now that the lockout is over. He broke into the league as an Albany River Rat in the fall of 1993, won a Calder Cup here the next season and played as a River Rat for four seasons before beginning a journeyman career. Through it, he amassed the most points (562) and assists (433) of any defenseman in AHL history.
He almost didn't get a shot at a 20th season, thanks to the lockout stacking the AHL with guys who would normally be in the NHL.
"I thought I had a deal done before the season started, but then all of a sudden, the lockout started and bumped me out," Helmer said. "I knew I wanted to play my 20th year. I still have the urge to play, I still think I can play, body feels good, so I wanted to get my 20th year in. I stayed in shape, skated where I live and when to the gym. Then the lockout [ended] and Springfield came calling."
The number 20 would have been an easy choice for his back, but it was already worn by Ryan Russell. So Helmer's agent dared him to wear No. 40, and he said "why not?"
The job he's being asked to do, primarily, is to be a role model for the young bucks on the roster.
"We've got a young defensive corps, so they want me to calm them down when we get a little excited," Helmer said. "Talk in the dressing room and help guys off the ice, too. Just, basically what I've been doing over the last 10, 15 years."
"He's 40 years old, he hasn't played half a season, then he had four practices and stepped right into a three-in-three. That stuff's infectious for this team," Springfield coach Brad Larsen said. "To see a guy, he's excited to play, he's still hungry to learn, he's an excellent teammate. He's a great guy for young guys to watch and see his enthusiasm and the way he plays with patience and poise. Every game, he's getting better. His game is coming on quick for a guy who's not the fastest guy. But you don't play that long and as well as he has just because you're a great guy. He's a great leader, but he has a lot of ability still, and it's great to see."
Helmer said it took him a couple games to get up to speed after spending time back in Westport, Ontario playing pick-up hockey with his friends, but he's up to speed now. Still, though he has the skill and will, he may not try to suit up in No. 41 next season.
"I've been lucky to play this long," Helmer said. "We'll see how things go. You never say never. I'll probably make that call more towards the end or maybe in the summer."