|Bryan Helmer signed a deal with Hershey after playing for the San Antonio Rampage the past two seasons.
Even in his house, veteran defenseman Bryan Helmer
can't escape the question.
Sometimes it even comes out of the mouth of his 7-year-old son, Cade.
"He's always, 'Dad, are you going to get called up? I'm like, 'Well, I'm trying,"' Helmer said. "He understands that I'm older. He's just glad I'm playing professional hockey."
As is dad, who at 36 showed last month that he's still spry enough to stay professionally mobile. Helmer signed a deal with Hershey after playing for San Antonio the past two seasons. Last week, Helmer was keeping busy at his home near Kingston, Ontario, while at the same time trying to sell his place in San Antonio and looking for new digs in Hershey.
"It's pretty stressful," he said. "That's the fun part about being in hockey. You never know."
All he can count on for now is a season with the Bears. Helmer hoped to re-sign with Phoenix, but when that didn't work out he signed a one-year AHL deal with Hershey because he was drawn to their annual status as contenders.
"I still think I can play in the NHL," said Helmer, who has played in 134 NHL games but none since 2003-04. "But there weren't too many options out there for that. I enjoy going to the rink. I enjoy being around the kids."
Helmer has amassed 454 points in 848 career AHL games, and ranks second only to John Slaney
(519) for career points for a defenseman. That total may be out of reach in 2008-09. He produced only 20 points for the Rampage last year and now focuses on playing a game more cerebral than flashy.
"Physically, I feel great. But I've definitely changed my game," he said. "Nowadays, the kids are so fast. You have to use your mind. I think I've matured mentally from when I was younger. You can't battle in front of the net anymore. A lot of it is angles, cutting people off from spots where they want to go. It comes naturally, being in all different situations in my career."
And if those future situations don't include a recall, will Cade be OK?
"If it doesn't happen, I have lots of tapes of when I played in the NHL," Bryan said.
Peters having quite a summer
-- Bill Peters' spring/summer roll has pushed him all the way to Rockford.
Peters, 43, was named new coach of the IceHogs last week in the latest jackpot of a two-month stretch of good news.
In May, Spokane, the team he previously coached, won the Memorial Cup. He was also recently named coach of Canada's National Men's World Junior Team for the upcoming Ivan Hlinka
Memorial Aug. 12-16 in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Then Chicago plucked him away from juniors to head its farm team.
"It's been a busy summer. I didn't see this coming at the end, but it all adds to it," Peters said. "It (getting an AHL job) is exciting. There's a revival in the Windy City, and I like the depth in the organization."
Peters was preparing for another season in charge of the Chiefs and wasn't even aware the Blackhawks were eyeing him until a few days before they brought him in for an interview and then actually hired him.
"It all happened that quickly. It was late in the (summer) as far as that goes. I was surprised," Peters said. "There's definitely a learning curve when you change leagues. The thing I like is that I'm surrounded by quality people. When good people work hard, good things happen."
"I've never head-coached. But you practice, you prepare, you grow. I've been doing that for some time. Successful people want to go into a good situation. You try to set the stage for the team to come into its own. For me to be able to start my head-coaching career, this is the place I would have picked." - Dan Bylsma
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, by contrast, turned to a familiar brand in replacing coach Todd Richards
earlier this week. The Penguins tabbed Dan Bylsma
, who was an assistant with the team the past two years. Bylsma was also an assistant with Cincinnati of the AHL and the Islanders, but he's never been a head coach.
Clearly, though, he's given it a lot of thought. He's been compiling books of practice drills ever since his playing days, and he's already starting to map out Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's regimen this season, broken into blocks of 20-game segments.
When everything is factored in -- arena, fan support and recent success -- the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton job might be the best one in the AHL. Right now, it also might be the most challenging for a rookie coach. The Penguins lost in the Calder Cup finals last year, so the only room for improvement is to win it all in 2008-09.
"I've never head-coached. But you practice, you prepare, you grow," said Bylsma, 37. "I've been doing that for some time. Successful people want to go into a good situation. You try to set the stage for the team to come into its own. For me to be able to start my head-coaching career, this is the place I would have picked."
In other coaching news, Kevin Dineen
will be head coach for a fourth season at Portland. Buffalo has taken over from Anaheim as the parent club there, but the Sabres decided to retain Dineen.
Platt taking game to Finland
-- Somewhere on the journey from Maine to Iowa (maybe) to Anaheim, forward Geoff Platt
's career has veered off to an unusual little detour.
"By no means is it conventional what I'm doing," Platt said.
Players jumping to Europe is as common as an interference call these days. The twist in Platt's case is that he's only 23, still well within the up-and-comer's range.
Platt will make a decent dollar or two in Finland, but that's not his point. He's using Finland for the same purpose as most players his age use the AHL -- as a place to solidify his prospect status.
Platt is just coming off his entry-level deal and was qualified by Anaheim. Platt was interested in a one-way contract. The Ducks said no, a two-way offer better fits our vision for you.
Platt saw that as a likely excuse to send him to Iowa, which is Anaheim's new farm team. So the plan is to spice up his seasoning with a strong effort in Finland, ideally changing Anaheim's vision of him on its depth chart.
"I think whether I came back (to the AHL) and scored 30 or 40 goals next year, it wouldn't have changed their mind toward me," Platt said. "I thought I achieved what I could in the AHL.
Another season in the American League was too much. I needed a new challenge."
Platt isn't worried that his gambit will backfire and cost him footing as an NHL prospect.
"I can see from an outsider's point of view that I might be blocking off my chance in North America," he said. "I'm fairly confident if I wanted to I could step back into an American League job."
"I like the challenge of the pressure. To me, that was the attraction in wanting this job. What I really like is their emphasis on winning here. I have aspirations of coaching in the NHL. This is a great preparation for coaching at that level." - Don Granato
Granato coaching hometown team
-- As quickly as the thought entered Don Granato
's mind, he'd try to chase it right back out.
Granato spent the past couple of years scouting for the Toronto Maple Leafs
. That job took him to maybe 15 Chicago Wolves games a year. It was hard for him to sit in Allstate Arena -- about 20 minutes from his hometown of Downers Grove, Ill. -- and not dream about someday coaching that team.
"It's funny. Whenever I'd think that, walking into the building as a scout, I'd say, 'Put it out of your mind. You're here to scout a game,"' he said. "I'd prevent myself from thinking too deep on it. I wasn't going to get my hopes up by any means."
He can now. Chicago named Granato its new coach last week. It's a job he's qualified for on multiple levels.
Granato, 40, was AHL coach of the year with Worcester in 2000-01. He's also been an assistant coach of the St. Louis Blues
. And eyeing the Calder Cup champ Wolves so closely for several years, he knows the demands that are falling on his back as the replacement for 11-year coach John Anderson
"You are certainly in the shadow of what he's done, and I don't mind that," Granato said. "I like the challenge of the pressure. To me, that was the attraction in wanting this job. What I really like is their emphasis on winning here. I have aspirations of coaching in the NHL. This is a great preparation for coaching at that level."
Besides, life as a member of one of hockey's most well-known families -- brother Tony coaches the Avalanche, sister Cammi is an all-time women's great -- has taught Don about both living in and creating some of his own shadows.
"That was a standard growing up in our family. We always put tremendous pressure on ourselves to perform," Don said. "Pressure is what you make of it. Preparation is a key. But the biggest factor to me has been focus. It has been on moving forward, and it will continue to be that way."