10/08/2009 - By Kaitlin Santanna || AHL On The Beat Archive
Prior to last season, the prospect of winning a second Calder Cup looked bleak for Hershey defenseman Bryan Helmer.
After winning his first championship with the Albany River Rats in 1995, 13 years had trickled by with no repeat. Nearly a decade and a half later, however, Helmer found himself once again raising the Calder Cup above his head. Though wearing a different jersey and in a more developed place in his life, Helmer can once again call himself a champion.
Although Helmer has two Calder Cup rings, the journeys to receive such hardware were completely diverse. The 1995 Calder Cup playoffs were the last to use a 12-team, three-division system, meaning a team could win the championship in just three rounds.
Albany, as a result of earning a bye and its stellar play, made an easy cruise to become Calder Cup Champions. After sweeping the Adirondack Red Wings, the River Rats took out the Providence Bruins in six games. Albany issued its second sweep of the postseason against the Fredericton Canadiens in the finals to secure the Calder Cup, going 12-2 in the playoffs.
While Helmer's first run was met with ease, his second championship with Hershey came with more adversity. Battling through a seven-game series with division foe Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and having to capture the Cup on the road in game six versus the Manitoba Moose, the Bears' postseason was long and arduous.
Helmer's second Calder Cup also felt more taxing because of his larger role with his team throughout the finals. Through a span of 14 years, changes are inevitable in any situation. This period of evolution between Cups was evident in Helmer, both on and off the ice.
In Albany's '95 playoffs, Helmer was 22 years old and completing his second year in the league. Then a more offensive defenseman, the Ontario native found himself the odd man out come postseason play. Serving as the team's seventh defenseman, Helmer only played seven games in the playoffs.
"I was that young kid that was right on the bubble of playing in the playoffs," Helmer recalled. "They brought in some defensemen who had experience in the NHL and overseas and kind of bumped me out of the lineup."
Nearly a decade and a half later, Helmer's role in the push for the Calder Cup was worlds apart. As Hershey's captain in 2008-09, he played an instrumental part in capturing the Bears' 10th league championship. Along with playing in all 22 games, Helmer was a veteran on the team and guided the squad both on and off the ice.
The lengthy gap between championships not only made Helmer a better player and leader, but made him appreciate the rarity of winning it all.
"It's funny when you are young; you don't appreciate things like you do when you get older.
"I sort of took it for granted," Helmer continued. "I thought it was going to happen every year, and obviously it didn't happen for another 14 years."
Another big difference between Helmer's two Cups came in his personal life. With the River Rats, Helmer was merely dating his wife-to-be, Pam, who was off at school and not able to share in the playoff experience. Now 37, Helmer is married with two children.
Throughout last season, Helmer shared several hockey memories with his family for the first time. In November, Helmer was recalled to the NHL for six games with the Washington Capitals. Less than a month later he was named the captain for the Canadian AHL All-Star team. The season was capped with the zenith of hockey accomplishments, being the first to raise the Calder Cup above his head captaining a championship team.
Helmer's family was by his side for every step of his unforgettable 2008-09 season. His eldest child, a 7-year-old son named Cade, appeared at every momentous event, from relaxing on the bench at the All-Star game to standing on the ice at the Bears' banner raising ceremony last week. Having his family present made the Calder Cup run just a bit more special and made him appreciate winning more.
"This last year was pretty special having [my wife] here and also my two kids," Helmer recollects. "Having my family here to celebrate and be a part of it made last year's championship a little sweeter."
Helmer returns this season to Hershey for a second stint as the team's captain. Although he now realizes that lengthy Calder Cup playoffs only come once in a blue moon, Helmer is again in the position to use his experience in guiding a talented team deep into the postseason.
"We have a good mix of young and older guys like we did last year," Helmer said of his team this year. "Hopefully we can make a good run for it again."
If there is another Calder Cup in the defenseman's future, Helmer can only hope the next span between Cups is not nearly as long as the first.