Journeyman. Consummate professional. Gritty leader. Far too often, in the sports landscape, these monikers get over-worked, and rarely do they actually describe the individual they are meant to portray. However, there are times when these tags fit the bill.
Last night, amidst an Oklahoma City 7-2 drubbing of the Peoria Rivermen, newly acquired defenseman Bryan Helmer had one assist, and two goals. Indeed, it was a great night for the Ontario native who is still riding a week old try out contract, but it was a quiet milestone in a career that extends well beyond his brief stint with the Barons.
Helmer, the 38 year old, right-hander is now the all-time scoring leader in the AHL amongst defesemen. Helmer's stats are really quite remarkable. In 986 games played, he has accumulated 122 goals, and 398 assists for the magic number of 520 points. In addition to his record setting total, he is very close to joining the 1,000 games played club which has only been met by seven other players in league history. Helmer isn't without NHL experience either, as he has enjoyed 146 games in the big leagues with the St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, and most recently the Washington Capitals. He'e entertained the company of Jeremy Roenick, Daniel Briere, Chris Pronger, Henrik Sedin, and Alex Ovechkin.
A record like this, at any level, is a cherished feat given that defensive hockey players typically have careers spanning less than six seasons. It takes tenacity, strength, endurance, and careful planning to remain employed and healthy within a sport that is brutal on the body. Somehow and in some way, Bryan Helmer has exceeded career life expectancy, and positively contributed to almost every team he has been a part of. This one fact alone makes him invaluable no matter his age.
When the Barons came calling, Helmer was at home in Ontario having just won the Calder Cup alongside Alexandre Giroux merely the season before. Barons GM Bill Scott reached into his magic hat, and pulled out a golden rabbit in Helmer. The Oklahoma City Barons, in the throes of emergency call ups to Edmonton, have lately experienced major downgrades on the blue line. This, coupled with their youth, have caused the Barons to take three steps back while trying to push towards the top spot in the Western Conference and hopefully a deep playoff run. Of Helmer, Coach Todd Nelson tells AHL.com, "Having a player like Bryan Helmer can be a key ingredient to a playoff run. We expect that our team will learn from his experience as captain of a back-to-back AHL championship team in addition to his experience at the NHL and AHL levels." This experience is exactly what a young Barons team needs. His impact might not be seen directly on the scoreboard, but his impression can be felt on the ice and in the locker room. "We're happy to have Bryan here," continues coach Nelson at AHL.com, "Besides his play on the ice, he will help us in the dressing room with his good knowledge of the game. Anytime you have a chance to sign a guy with the experience he has, it's a good thing."
And really this is nothing new for Helmer. He handles the progression of his career like you'd drive a classic Cadillac; slow, steady, but with an air of swelling pride. It's hard not to wonder how much gas is left in the D-man's tank, but within a newly minted Oilers AHL franchise, that has prided itself on youthfulness, he is a breathe of fresh air.
The tragic part for Bryan Helmer is that his outstanding achievements will go unnoticed in Oklahoma. I've talked about the attendance struggles, lack of attention, and media forgetfulness in Oklahoma City when it comes to the Barons, but a story like Helmer's is difficult to ignore. The faithful followers of the Barons, both in Edmonton and Oklahoma, will understand the significance of this AHL milestone, but they'll also understand the potential role he could play for minor league success in the near future.
Bryan Helmer has almost certainly earned himself a full-fledged contract with the Barons, and he's already found a place of lore within the truly veracious hockey fans across the Oklahoma plains. So let's embrace the diligent career of Bryan Helmer while curiously anticipating his continued success in Oklahoma City. Journeyman. Consummate professional. Gritty leader. Done, done, and done.