Helmer gets another chance to play in the bigs; Ovie hits World Wide Web

December, 2, 2008
In keeping with our underdog theme today, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to catch up with Bryan Helmer.

The 36-year-old defenseman is back in the NHL for the first time since the 2003-04 season. The Washington Capitals, crippled by injuries, signed him to an NHL deal last week and called him up from their AHL affiliate in Hershey, Pa.

"When I got the call on Thursday, I actually thought it was a joke," Helmer told ESPN.com Tuesday after the morning skate in Washington. "I thought it was one of the guys playing a joke on me.

"I ended up calling our coach in Hershey and said 'Is this true?' And he said yes."

Last Friday night against Montreal, Helmer was back on NHL ice after four-plus seasons in the AHL. He said the biggest thrill was having his family in the stands watching -- 3-year-old daughter Rylan and 7-year-old son Cade were pumped. Cade didn't remember his father being in the NHL five seasons ago.

"He always kept saying in recent years, 'When are you going to get called up to the NHL?' I would say, 'Here, let's put this tape in and I'll show you when I played in the NHL,'" Helmer said. "He was pretty excited when I got called up and he got to see me play.

"He plays on the Junior Bears down in Hershey, and he was bragging to his teammates that his dad was in the NHL. So that's pretty cool."

Helmer was in the lineup for his third game Tuesday night against Florida. He's on a two-way deal that pays him the NHL-minimum $475,000 in the bigs and $170,000 in Hershey. Odds are, once the Caps get healthy, he might get sent back down, and he knows that. So he's soaking it all in.

"Playing that first game in front of my family on Friday -- the rest is just icing on the cake," Helmer said. "I'm just glad to be up here. I'm trying to do whatever I can to help these guys win. If I'm up here for just one more game or for a bunch, I'm just going to enjoy it."

Helmer, who dressed for career NHL game No. 137 on Tuesday night, had last played in the big leagues before all the rules changes that came out of the lockout. He's noticed a big difference.

"I can tell you it's definitely faster and quicker, and the young guys are bigger and faster," he said. "[The rule changes] have definitely improved the game quite a bit. It took a bit to get used to Friday night, but I felt comfortable out there."

He's glad No. 8 is on his side. Seeing is believing when it comes to Alex Ovechkin.

"He's unbelievable," Helmer said. "Sometimes during a game, you catch yourself watching him. You're like, 'Wow, did he really pull that off?' It's almost like he's a man playing a boy's game. He's the real deal."

Ovechkin will likely only play for one pro team in his NHL career. Helmer? His pro stops were in Albany (AHL), Phoenix (NHL), St. Louis (NHL), Las Vegas (IHL), Worcester (AHL), Kansas City (IHL), Vancouver (NHL), Manitoba (AHL), Springfield (AHL), Grand Rapids (AHL) and San Antonio (AHL). This summer, when many at his age would have given up the dream, he signed with Hersey.

"I enjoy coming to the rink; I enjoy helping out the young guys and giving them advice," Helmer said. "I just enjoy what I do, and I don't want to do anything else. At the start of the season, some of the young guys asked me why I was still in the AHL, and why I wouldn't sign [for more money] in Europe.

"I said to them, 'I still have the dream to get back in the NHL. Not just for myself, but for my kids.'"

Ovie online
Speaking of Ovechkin, I wonder if Helmer has visited the Russian star's official Web site, which was launched this week. You can find it here: www.alexovechkin8.com

Ovechkin's legion of fans can find video, audio and news clips, but my favorite is the sterling silver chain and pendant for sale … for only $175. :-)

You can wear the same chain and pendant as No. 8. Hmm … thanks, but I'll pass.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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