by Sasha Kandrach | AHL On The Beat
Seth Helgeson is a quintessential leader by example, so it’s only fitting that he has served as the 14th captain in Bridgeport Sound Tigers history this season.
“Seth’s been with us for a long time, it’s one of those situations where our relationship has grown,” Sound Tigers head coach Brent Thompson said. “We know what he’s going to bring day in and day out. A lot of people don’t see him in practice, they don’t see him in the weight room, they don’t see how he approaches the game, his preparation, his intensity level in practices, all these little things. Now, you see it in games as well. It’s really good for our young guys.
“He’s a voice in the room,” Thompson continued. “It’s a great extension of what we’re trying to teach. He’s just a first-class person all around. If you looked at every game, even on some of his bad nights, he’s still one of your top players. He competes so hard. That’s the kind of leader you want to have in your locker room.”
This season marks Helgeson’s eighth of professional hockey and his fourth campaign with Bridgeport, the AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders. The 30-year-old defenseman was originally drafted by New Jersey back in 2009 and has gained a surplus of valuable experience over the years.
He had the opportunity to dress in 50 NHL games over several stints with the Devils, and Helgeson recently eclipsed the 500 professional game milestone on April 20. He has 77 points (11g, 66a) in 452 career AHL games.
Since joining the Sound Tigers in 2017, Helgeson has deservingly earned the respect and admiration from his teammates season after season.
“The most prominent thing is doing it the right way,” Bridgeport alternate captain Cole Bardreau said. “He is the perfect picture of doing things the right way. You know what you’re going to get from him. He’s the definition of consistency. That’s huge for some of these young guys to see. He sticks up for his teammates and leads by example. He’s willing to go to the dirty areas, fight anyone, he leads our ship the whole way around.”
While Helgeson had been appointed to a leadership role as an alternate captain each season since his arrival in Bridgeport, this is the first time he’s worn the “C”. Not just in his professional hockey career either, but dating back to his collegiate career at the University of Minnesota and his junior career in the USHL with Sioux City.
“It’s been a great honor,” Helgeson said. “To have the support from not only the coaching staff, but the guys on the team, the organization as well – the management. Everyone from top on down has been great. It’s been an easy transition so far. I’ve played under a lot of good captains, a lot of good leadership, so I’ve taken away a lot of things throughout my career. I just try to use that as much as I can this year. It’s been really easy with a team like we have this year. Everyone has made me feel comfortable wearing the ‘C’.”
Helgeson credits his evolution as a player and a professional to some of the innate leaders he has crossed paths with over the years. Whether it was a fellow Minnesota native and Islanders captain Anders Lee, who he is still close friends with to this day, or under the guidance of former Devils captain and current member of the Islanders in Andy Greene, Helgeson has been fortunate to gain insight from some high-caliber captains.
While he is undoubtedly proud to be the captain of the Sound Tigers, his approach hasn’t changed nor has his hard-nosed defensive game. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound blueliner takes pride in his abrasive style of play that is reflected in several seasons of leading the Sound Tigers in penalty minutes.
“The biggest thing that I was told when Coach Thompson told me that this was going to happen was to just be myself,” Helgeson said. “For that, the way I approach it is pretty easy going. Keep it light and just try to be supportive for everyone. Yes, it’s all the players, the teammates, but it’s the training staff, the equipment managers, and everyone else that does their part to help this team go. It’s been an easy transition. The way I am, just keeping it easy going and making sure everyone is comfortable around the rink.”
Helgeson has had a strong impact on some of the newer players – on a young Sound Tigers team – and played a significant role in contributing to the team’s cohesion, especially in a challenging COVID-shortened season.
“He’s not typically the guy who’s going to be incredibly vocal, but when the time is right he says what he needs to say,” 21-year-old Bode Wilde, who is Helgeson’s D-partner, said. “All the boys listen. There’s a lot of respect in the locker room for that guy. For me personally, on the ice playing with him, he makes the game a whole lot easier for me. With the experience and how much he’s talking out there.”
This year’s unique season, which featured a 24-game slate against only Providence and Hartford, has presented its own set of challenges, but in all, has been a memorable one. As the season wraps up, Helgeson is focused on finishing the season on a strong note as a team and with his individual game, while continuing to be an exemplary leader through his preparation, poise and execution.
“Coming into pro hockey, I didn’t even think about the games,” Helgeson said. “[Five hundred games], if you had told me I was going to reach that I would have laughed a little bit.
“As the games go on, you learn about consistency,” Helgeson continued. “That’s the biggest thing, just trying to be consistent. What you bring to the table each day. I’ve learned through the years how much that goes. I’ve learned a lot along the way. You see yourself as the type of player you want to be. You continue to grow and work towards being the player you want for the team. It’s all about on and off the ice, I’ve learned that as a player and also a person. Just keeping everything in check and keep on going. It’s been a good, wild ride, but no regrets throughout my career. It’s been great.”