Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Keith Yandle is on the verge of becoming the Cal Ripken Jr. of hockey.
When he plays in Monday’s game against Dallas at the Wells Fargo Center, he will tie Doug Jarvis’ NHL record by playing in his 964th consecutive game. Barring an injury or a positive COVID test, he would then break the record Tuesday against the host New York Islanders.
During training camp, Yandle downplayed the remarkable streak, which is the equivalent of playing nearly 12 straight seasons without missing a game.
At the time, he said he wasn’t focused on the record, and he was “lucky enough to play one game in the NHL. It is truly a blessing to put on a sweater every night. I thank my lucky stars every day that I am able to play in the NHL.”
Now that he is about to surpass Jarvis, whose streak ran from 1975 to 1987, has the magnitude of his accomplishment started to sink in and mean more to him?
“Honestly, it’s still one of those things where I’m trying not to think about it too much,” said Yandle, the son of a high school hockey coach and a player who is in his first season with the Flyers. “Just trying to focus on one day at a time, focus on what you’re going to do that day. That’s just kind of the way I’m wired.”
While Yandle, 35, downplayed his feat, interim coach Mike Yeo didn’t. He cited Yandle’s professionalism.
“Anytime you’re a part of anything historic, breaking any kind of record and doing it at the highest level, it is an incredible accomplishment,” Yeo said after practice Sunday in Voorhees.
Yandle was asked if he ever thought COVID may end his streak. "That's just the times we're living in. … It added a little more stress, but I just tried to stay safe." His housemate, Kevin Hayes, had COVID earlier this season. #Flyers
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) January 23, 2022
Yandle, a Boston native, said he is like so many other hockey players who “try to play through as much pain as you can. I don’t think there’s many guys that feel 100 percent during the season. There’s been some times, obviously, where I have not felt great and it was tough sledding, but it’s one of those things where you just try to battle through it and try to help out your team..”
When he was with the Florida Panthers, there was a time he played with a cage to protect his broken jaw. Bobby Orr, the former NHL great, attended a game in Florida and gave Yandle some advice.
“He said, ‘If you can skate, you can play,’ ” Yandle recalled. “So it was kind of one of those things when a legend like that is saying it to you, you’ve got to suck it up and play.”
His role model
He was asked if he had any role models along the way.
“Definitely the most important person was Ray Bourque,” Yandle said of the former Boston Bruins defenseman and Hockey Hall of Famer, adding he was close friends with Bourque’s son, Chris. “And then Ray, right after he retired in ’01 came out and helped coach us in high school. So having a guy who was arguably the best defenseman ever, and to be able to help you in high school when you’re learning the game and falling in love with it, was pretty cool.”
This season, Yandle was ineffective on the top power-play unit and was demoted. In 41 games, he has 13 points, all assists, and has been weak in the defensive zone His minus-22 rating is the NHL’s second-worst figure.
“I think there’s been some stretches, like 10 or 15 games ago, where I couldn’t get a bounce; it just wasn’t going the right way,” said Yandle, whose team has lost 11 straight and dropped to the bottom of the Metropolitan standings. “There’s been ups and downs. Obviously, if you look at the way we’ve played, you want to contribute more, you want to help out more and help our team win. That’s why I came here. Starting tomorrow, just trying to build something better.”
In mid-July, the Panthers bought out Yandle’s contract, which had two years left with an annual $6.35 million salary-cap hit. The Flyers then signed the puck-moving defenseman to a team-friendly, one-year, $900,000 deal.
Yandle said there was “a lot of luck” in playing so many consecutive games and to avoid injuries and COVID, that his parents set an example by their work ethic, that his “love for the game and having fun” were key ingredients to his streak.
He also have props to his wife, Kristyn, calling her an amazing person and unsung hero behind the scenes.
“She’s held it down at home, taking care of the kids every day,” he said. “Doing as much, so I don’t have to worry about really anything except going to work and playing hockey. She definitely doesn’t ask for any credit or want any credit, but she’s definitely the backbone to our family, and the reason why I’ve been able to play is because of her holding down the homefront. I’m definitely grateful to have her.”
Yandle, an All-Star selection in 2011, 2012, and 2019, said he has never taken being in the league for granted and that he is no bigger than any team he has played on — and that he has never petitioned one of his coaches to keep him in the lineup.
Yeo was asked if he would be more inclined to rest Yandle once he breaks the streak. (Arizona’s Phil Kessel is right behind him, having played in 940 straight games.)
“I just focus on the game tomorrow, to be honest with you,” Yeo said. “I would say there are times where Keith has played real well, and, just like our team, there have been times where maybe he hasn’t. We’ve all shown a great deal of inconsistency at different times. I’m more focused on tomorrow, and we have to continue to make sure we evaluate what we’re getting from everybody and put the best players on the ice and giving the team the best chance to win.”