Every day Bryan Helmer, Vice President of Hershey Hockey Operations, leaves his house, he can expect to be approached by any number of fans who question him about the latest news for the coming AHL season. He probably should have a taped response to play, but instead the personable Helmer answers the questions to the best of his ability.
He starts his reply saying, “The NHL has a task force put together comprised of the owners, general managers and board of directors that have been around the AHL for a long time, who have been meeting, at least twice a month to discuss things, and have reached out to me and others to get our input with the target startup date of December 4. “
“Can that change, absolutely,” Helmer said. “In my opinion, once the NHL playoffs end, a lot of decisions will be dictated by that and what the AHL does will be as much as we can to follow the NHL. We, at our level just have to be patient because the virus will dictate everything. The best we can do is to be prepared to play in early December, but if it gets pushed then we adjust to that.”
When pressed for more details, he said, “There are so many moving parts to be considered about the schedule and locations of the teams, especially with those located in Canada and the transferring of players for call-ups due to NHL injuries. Everybody wants to play but it needs to done in as safe a way as possible. The leagues cancelled the end of last season because there could not be any fans and it doesn’t look that there will be any change for that whenever the leagues do get started.”
At this time, the NHL is holding its playoffs without fans but they are getting some TV revenue. How long they can continue to do that is a big question that affects both leagues because both are run financially by fans buying tickets and every NHL club has players developing in the AHL. The bottom line is the task force has to do its job and hopefully there will be hockey, but it will be a wait-and-see situation.
When the Washington Capitals quickly selected Peter Laviolette as their new head coach, it was a decision “Helms” thought was an excellent choice, based on his history of winning the 2006 Stanley Cup with Carolina, taking the Philadelphia Flyers to the 2010 final round and doing the same in 2017 with Nashville, plus also leading Providence to the 1999 Calder Cup.
Helmer also has a well-documented, sterling resume, despite the fact he was not drafted and went on to a more successful 20-year career than many number one picks could match.
His NHL time with Vancouver, Phoenix and Washington totaled just 146 games, but his name appears frequently in the AHL record book, including his 2017 induction into the league’s Hall of Fame. He also won Calder Cups in 1995 in Albany, and back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010 with the Bears. Four other years, he made it to the conference final round.
He called eight different AHL franchises home during his lengthy career, starting in Albany, followed by Worcester, Manitoba, Springfield, Grand Rapids, San Antonio, Hershey and Oklahoma City.
“Moving around is all part of the game and I think about the years at the end where we moved several times in 18 months, but it was well worth it because every spot we enjoyed tremendously,” Helms said.
Playing 1,117 AHL games ranks him number-three all-time and his 159 playoff tilts is the league record. As a defenseman he is also the top dog with 435 assists and 564 points.
“If you had asked me when I was 19 playing junior hockey if I was going to have a 20 year pro career I would’ve said you’re crazy,” Helmer said, with a laugh. “I was very fortunate, and lucky to play with a lot of players and good teams, but I must say playing, and winning the two Cups in Hershey, prolonged my career. To stay as healthy as I did was also very important too.”
Helmer spent three years as an assistant coach, two with the Bears, but admitted he never got to the point where he thought about being a head coach, because that’s a whole different level of stress and he just wanted to concentrate on being good at what he was doing.
When questioned about how his current position with the Bears happened, he said, “Doug Yingst, whose title was General Manager, actually approached me about it in October of the year he was going to retire, and at that time I was still coaching, but then he did again later convince me to put my name in. This time, my wife and I talked about how much we liked Hershey. and the kids didn’t want to move again.
“We decided what could be a better job and place to settle down,” added Helmer. “I went through the interview process and got the job, so everybody is happy. Obviously, I miss some parts of coaching, but I love what I’m doing and have that security of getting the kids through school and calling Hershey our home.”
The major change when he replaced Yingst to become Vice President of Hockey Operations was that he can’t go out to secure any players without going through Washington.
“On the plus side of that is I have a really good relationship with their organization and we are all on the same page to make sure Hershey is successful because that means the Capitals will have prospects who have been successful in the AHL,” Helms said. “Their 2018 team that won the Stanley Cup had 14 ex-Hershey guys who helped do that.”
Like the saying in real estate that location is important, another factor in the renewed four-year agreement between the franchises is moving Hershey players to Washington, and South Carolina guys to Hershey, can be accomplished within a short period of time.
“I talk to the South Carolina people frequently to keep up to date and the Capitals do the same with us,” Helms said. “Overall it’s a great fit for everybody.”