Bryan Helmer never set out to become a career minor-league scoring leader. (Really, who does?) But about two weeks ago, when he was playing hockey with some friends in a town league outside of Kingston, the 38-year-old Helmer admitted he wanted back into the game. He wanted to be the American Hockey League’s all-time scoring defenceman.
And just like that he got a call from the Oklahoma City Barons, the Edmonton Oilers’ AHL affiliate; he signed a contract and Thursday night he scored twice and added an assist for 520 points, an AHL record.
It’s quite the accomplishment if you consider how Helmer’s 18-year professional career has spanned 10 teams in two minor leagues and included 146 games in the National Hockey League with the St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals.
It was his last NHL stint - with Alexander Ovechkin and the Caps in 2008-09 - that holds a special place in his heart.
“My son Cade (then seven years old) kept asking me, ‘Are you going to get called up?’ I told him, ‘I’m trying.’ Then I got to tell him I was going to Washington,” said Helmer. “To see my son smile was worth it. At age 36, to make it back to the NHL – my wife and four-year-old daughter were there, too, in the stands watching - I’ll always remember that.”
Helmer was beginning to think his AHL days were done despite the fact he had helped Hershey win back-to-back Calder Cup championships in 2009 and 2010. A free agent last fall, he got an offer to sign with Oklahoma City but negotiations stalled. To keep himself fit, he worked out and played as much hockey as he could find.
That meant playing with a collection of friends in Westport, Ont., near Kingston, and even in a police tournament in Smith Falls.
“I was just trying to get as much ice time as I could,” he said. “I was definitely getting discouraged. Then Oklahoma City came back and offered me another chance.”
Given that opportunity, the puck-moving Helmer has gotten right to work, scoring seven points in four games, including the three that put him into the record books, making him the Ray Bourque of minor-league hockey. Or, for you baseball movie fans, Crash Davis.
“I thought about retiring but I still wanted to play this year and I wanted the record,” he readily admitted. “I’ve definitely been fortunate to stay healthy and play on good teams and the hard work has been rewarded.
“I don’t know if I’ll play beyond this year. Maybe I’ll go into coaching or run a hockey school. I’d like to keep within the game. But right now, I’m still having fun. I’m enjoying my career.”