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Youthful Helm makes most of Cup run

by Larry Wigge

Darren Helm, who has two goals and two assists in Detroit's playoff run, has made a contribution in each of the Cup Final games.   WATCH Darren Helm in action
PITTSBURGH -- Fresh face. Even fresher outlook. There's always some kind of youthful exuberance mixed in with the veteran presence at the Stanley Cup Final, isn't there?

For the Detroit Red Wings that fresh look is represented by 21-year-old Darren Helm, the youngest player to skate for the Wings in the playoffs. And Helm is not hard to pick out. Not when you first get a look at the sprinter's speed and tenacity he brings to the lineup.

"I try not to think about where I am right now, but it's kind of hard when we step off the ice and there's this horde of reporters and TV crews wanting to know everything about you. It's crazy," Helm said after getting the lead assist on linemate Jiri Hudler's game-winning goal in a 2-1 victory in Game 4. He also scored a goal in Game 5's marathon 4-3 loss to the Pens. "Obviously, I have these pictures in my mind, these snapshots I'm remembering of the games ... everything.

"Every kid growing up wants to play in and win the Stanley Cup. A lot of players never get an opportunity to play in the Final -- and I'm fortunate to be in the spot I am in my first year. But I know that it may never happen again, so I've got to treat it like it's my last chance."

Helm, who has two goals and two assists in Detroit's playoff run, has made a contribution of sorts in each of the Cup Final games -- starting with one shot, two hits and one takeaway in Game 1, one more hit in Game 2, two shots and one hit in Game 3 and one memorable assist, two shots, one hit and one takeaway in Game 4. But no point was more important than the one he got Saturday night.

How will he remember the moment of his life?

"I was on the ground. I got tripped up and was fighting with Brooks Orpik when the puck went in," Helm said with a little bit of an embarrassed look on his face. "But that's fine by me as long as the puck went in. The key was I was doing my job on the play."

This snapshot, this memory, might not exactly be the kind he can brag about with all sorts of details years from now.

"He saw us celebrating and came up to me and asked, 'Did you score?' I said, 'Yes.' And he said, 'Good.' " Hudler remembered, laughing.

"Obviously, I'm going to cherish this whole Stanley Cup moment," Helm continued.

The 6-foot, 182-pound winger Helm, who hails from tiny St. Andrews, Manitoba, is another one of those Red Wings' scouting staff specials -- a fifth-round pick, 132nd overall, in the 2005 Entry Draft.

"I was this skinny little kid at the time and never even thought about being picked in the draft," Helm remembered, saying he was just 5-11, 172 pounds at the time.

But that changed quickly as he got stronger ... and faster. In fact, Darren thought he had a shot at making the big club in training camp, until a cracked collarbone slowed down his progress.

But nothing ever really slows down Helm.

"Everything is coming real quick, kind of a whirlwind experience," he admitted. "Though I didn't expect this."

Helm was brought up from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League for a game or two on three different occasions. But when he played the last game of the regular season in Detroit, he got the impression that he was here to stay.

Well ... sort of. The next day he was headed back to Grand Rapids for two games. Then, he came back to the Wings' lineup for good.

"He looks like he's barely old enough to drive," said veteran winger Dallas Drake. "But he's such a threat offensively and responsible defensively because of his speed and tenacity."

"He's like a speed bullet out there," Tomas Holmstrom said. "And he works so hard he's just going to get better and better."

"I'll never forget Coach (Mike Babcock) putting me on a line with Darren in my first training camp," Johan Franzen recalled. "It was clear to me he was sending me a message that I'd better improve my skating by putting me out there with such a fast player."

Hudler said it's easy to play on a line with Helm.

"He backs off opponents with his speed and because he's so physical," Hudler explained. "Those two qualities create time and space for the rest of us."

There was a question in the media earlier in the Final when Franzen came back in the lineup from concussion symptoms whether Helm or veteran Darren McCarty would come out of the lineup. The rookie, with his speed and physical play, was chosen over the Stanley Cup Final experience of McCarty.

"What I like about him of course is the speed. He's flat-out fast," Babcock said. "But he's also gritty. Finishes his checks. Smart. Very good defensively. He's really hard on the puck because of his skating ability and because of that he can play against anybody."

Currently, Babcock uses that speed in a fourth-line checking role. But the Red Wings expect everyone on their forward lines to contribute, first through fourth lines -- and Helm has proven he can make things happen with his speed and tenacity.

That better-and-better future that Holmstrom was talking about could include more goals and assists.

The year after Darren was drafted by the Red Wings, he had 41 goals and 38 assists in Juniors in 70 games for Medicine Hat of the Western Hockey League. He followed that with 25 goals and 39 assists the next year at Medicine Hat and had 16 goals and 15 assists in 67 games at Grand Rapids this season coming off the injury -- with most of that production coming in the second half.

The hunger and determination are obviously a part of being a skinny kid who needed to work hard to get where he is today. But it's also a product of his upbringing, where his dad, Gary, is in meat processing and his mom, Corience, is a hotel cook. Actually, Darren's first real job was as a beer vender at the River Crest hotel where his mom works in St. Andrews.

Responsible. Accountable. Hard-working. And, most of all, speedy.

Darren's speed is not just limited to hockey.

"I've always been quick. Really competitive. I loved to race, whether it was in hockey on track and field," he said. "In high school, I ran the 100-, 200-, 400-yard sprints."

Yeah, yeah, Darren. But there's got to be something in the genes to create as much speed as you have on the ice.

Finally, the fresh-faced youngster admitted, "Well, yeah. You might say it's because of my brothers. They used to challenge me. They would always say, 'Go get me a Coke. I'll time you.'

"I always thought it was a lot of fun, you know, doing things with the guys? It took me a while to figure out they were taking advantage of me."

Fresh face, fresh experiences and learning life's little lessons so that Darren Helm will be much, much better in the future.

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