Helm aims for pro career

ADAM WAZNY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:37 AM ET

Calgary Hitmen forwards Derek LeBlanc and Ryan White -- both out of Brandon -- are tied for ninth spot in Western Hockey League playoff scoring. Each has 14 points, so far.

Further up the scoring list is teammate Brodie Dupont. The St. Lazare native has 15 points this post-season, just three back of Winnipeg's Jared Walker. Though his Prince George Cougars are on the verge of elimination (they're down 3-0 to Vancouver in one WHL semifinal, Game 4 was last night), Walker is second in scoring with 19 points in 14 games.

All four Manitobans, all having great season with their respective clubs.

Darren Helm has 'em all beat, though.

"I think about it once in a while, but it will probably really hit me when it's all over," the Medicine Hat forward and St. Andrews-product said from Calgary the other day. Helm, of course, is not just talking about the playoff run he's leading his Tigers on but the season as a whole.

He'll look back on the past winter, when he came out of nowhere and made the Canadian national junior team, as the pinnacle of his young hockey career. In fact, that reflection has already begun.

"This will probably be my last year in junior so I'm kind of already thinking about my career to this point and the guys I played with, the coaches, and the friends I've made," said Helm, whose 17 post-season points have paced the Tigers to a 2-1 series lead over the Hitmen (prior to last night's Game 4 match-up). "It's been an unbelievable experience for me. I've been pretty fortunate."

Helm couldn't script a better season. Here's a guy who was cut from the MJHL's Selkirk Steelers three years ago and was resigned to playing for his local junior-B club. Here's a guy who was often over-looked. Here's a guy who came into this season with only one real productive year under his belt in the WHL.

Having a solid, consistent start and getting an invite to the national junior camp would haven been a realistic goal. Making that Canadian junior squad, winning a gold medal -- and putting his Tigers on the cusp of the league final and in the Memorial Cup (Vancouver is hosting, meaning if the Giants get in so to will the WHL finalist) -- is pure Fantasy Island.

"You always hope that it's going to happen that way, but you don't really know for sure," said Helm. "When it happens, it goes by fast. The year has gone by pretty quick. It takes it's toll on you, physically and emotionally but playing on that junior team and coming back here, I've been a lot more confident."

Helm, 20, could still come back to the WHL next season, but it's very unlikely at this point. A fifth-round selection of the Detroit Red Wings in the 2005 NHL entry draft, the 6-foot, 182-pound speedster is planning to make this spring his swan song in the Dub.

"I hopefully will be in Grand Rapids, that's what I'm shooting for," he said, adding he's not ready to wake from his dream season just yet. "I'm aiming for the AHL, but I don't want to look ahead. There are still some games here to play."


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