Oklahoma City Barons captain Bryan Helmer can't let losses get to him much, especially when they happen at home.
This loss — 4-3 in overtime to Rochester on Dec. 27 — isn't an easy one to let go. But Helmer shakes it off.
The game finished less than an hour ago and just a few people remain in the Cox Convention Center, but the 39-year-old Helmer is quickly ready for the most important part of his night.
After almost every home game for most of the last seven seasons, Helmer meets with one family and gives them a tour of the locker room.
This night, it's 10-year-old twins Joel and Paul Crawford and their parents, Paul and Alissa.
The family is part of the “Helmer's Heroes” program, which began in 2005 and started in Oklahoma City this year in Helmer's first full season with the Barons.
The program brings children who have been affected by childhood illnesses and their families to a hockey game. Helmer gives them a postgame tour, some gifts, and spends some time with the family.
“We were so impressed with his character,” Alissa Crawford said. “He wanted to get to know who we are and what we were going through. He's someone who I would love to have over for dinner and just talk to more. I hope many other Miracle Families get to have that same experience.”
The Crawfords are a “Miracle Family” with The Children's Hospital Foundation.
Ten-year-old Paul was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 8 and wears an insulin pump. His fraternal twin Joel does not have the disease, but he is screened yearly as part of the TrialNet research study, which is used for early detection and diabetes research.
Almost two months after their first hockey game, the boys still have plenty of memories.
For Paul, it was being on the video board and being interviewed during one of the breaks in the action.
Joel's favorite part was in the locker room after the game, when Helmer let him grab a handful of Dubble Bubble gum from the players' locker room stash.
“The locker room was pretty clean,” Joel said. “It was much cleaner than my room.”
The Helmer's Heroes program started in 2005 in Grand Rapids, Mich., after Helmer's daughter, Rylan, was born with a blood disorder that required a blood transfusion when she was just 10 days old.
“I was in the hospital with her and I was looking around at some of the kids that were going through chemo and things like that and their attitudes and personalities were amazing,” Helmer said. “They're going through these treatments that put adults in bed for months and they were up playing with my son in the waiting room and making the best of it.
“So I said to my wife, ‘I've got the resources that I can do something.'”
He talked to the public relations staff for the Grand Rapids Griffins and came up with the program. He bought season tickets, gave them to the Children's Hospital there and started giving the tours.
The program followed him to San Antonio, where he played for two seasons, and to Hershey, Pa., for two years before he wound up in Oklahoma City.
“It's amazing,” Helmer said. “Not only does it put a smile on them, but it puts a smile on me, too. The kids are amazing and so are the parents with the stuff that they go through. Our situation wasn't really life-threatening but it's stressful, and I couldn't imagine going through some of the things they've been through.”
The program has really taken off this season with the Barons, with the families being introduced and interviewed mid-game. Buffalo Wild Wings sponsored the season tickets, and the team masseuse gave Helmer some Scentsy Buddies to give to the children.
“It's been amazing here with the help that he's gotten from everyone,” said Helmer's wife Pam. “They've really just jumped on board with it.
“At the end of the day, hockey's hockey, but if you don't have your health, it doesn't mean much. For him to get a chance to spend some time with the families, learn about them and talk to them has been wonderful.”
Helmer's son, Cade, is the same age as Joel and Paul and spent some time talking with the boys outside of the locker room.
Paul plays soccer and football and sometimes basketball at recess at his Edmond school. Seeing his first hockey game and meeting Helmer afterward left him wanting to improve.
“They really impressed me to be a better player in whatever sport I do,” he said.
Alissa said the pump Paul has worn for almost a year has helped him tremendously.
“He's too comfortable with it sometimes,” she said.
For Paul, the initial diagnosis was rough, but he's learned to live with the disease.
“It was very scary,” he said. “I was frightened, didn't know what to do and I couldn't think straight.
“But since I've got the pump, it's so much easier. Shots every three days are a lot better than taking shots four times a day.”
For Helmer, it's not hard letting a loss go after meeting people like the Crawfords.
“It really puts things into perspective,” Bryan Helmer said. “We play a game. You see what they're going through and it's tough to be upset after a game.”