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IT’S OVER! Flyers’ Keith Yandle’s historic streak ends at 989 games

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Philadelphia Flyers, Keith Yandle
Keith Yandle (left), in a game earlier this season, will have his streak of consecutive games end Saturday at 989, an NHL record.

Keith Yandle’s NHL record for consecutive games played will end Saturday night.

The Philadelphia Flyers defenseman’s streak will stop at 989 games. On Saturday morning, interim coach Mike Yeo confirmed Yandle will not play tonight against visiting Toronto.

Yeo called it an “organizational decision” for what was best for the Flyers moving forward.

Yandle said he understood the decision, but that having the streak end was difficult.

“I don’t really know if it’s hit me completely,” he said. “I don’t know when it will. It’s kind of one of those things during it that I didn’t try to think about it too much. Just go out and play. Maybe now in the next day or two it’ll hit me.”

Yandle, 35, playing in his first year with the Flyers, has appeared in all 67 games this season and has been mostly ineffective. He has 15 points (one goal, 14 assists) and a league-worst minus-39 rating.

It will be the first regular-season game Yandle has missed in more than 13 years — March 22, 2009, when he was with the Phoenix Coyotes.

“We’re at the point in the season where as an organization it’s important we get young players in,” Yeo said. ” … Obviously we have to have an eye on the future and what’s coming down the road, and give some new guys an opportunity.”

Yandle said he talked to GM Chuck Fletcher, and that he wasn’t surprised by the benching.

“You know toward the end of the year when you’re signing young guys and getting free agents out of college that they’re going to give them a chance to play,” he said. “You’ve got to respect the business side of it and what they’re trying to do here.”

Yandle said he will “continue to come to the rink and help guys out, be a good teammate, and be here for guys.” He added that his mindset was to work hard and “try to get back in the lineup.”

‘Building for future’

Defenseman Ronnie Attard will make his NHL debut tonight, and is expected to be paired with Nick Seeler. Attard is a big part of the team’s future. Seeler, a potential UFA, could be a No. 6 or No. 7 defenseman next season.

“We want to make sure we’re building for the future here,” Yeo said.

He called Yandle’s streak an “amazing accomplishment,” and said he hopes his benching doesn’t detract from what he has done.

Yeo said Yandle handled the news as expected.

“He is nothing but a phenomenal pro,” he said. “He handled it extremely well. Obviously disappointed, which you would expect from a competitor and a hockey player who has been doing that as long as he has.

“My only hope is that he recognizes just how amazing it is what he has done. For sure it’s disappointing for him, no question. But you know, not many people can say they have done something that no one in the history of the NHL has done.”

Yandle was ill and missed Thursday’s practice, but he was able to get on the ice for Friday’s practice session. He was healthy enough to play tonight.

“It’s tough to have a bad day in the NHL,” Yandle said. “Obviously getting the news that you’re not playing is not what you want to hear, but that’s every single guy. Every guy wants to be on the ice and going to battle with their teammates. But once you’re on the ice, you’re feeling like a kid again, smiling and snapping the puck around. I think for me, it’s (about) trying to stay positive.”

Great impact

Yeo said that the end of the streak doesn’t diminish what Yandle has accomplished, adding that the Massachusetts native has had a great “impact inside the dressing room,” especially with the younger players like defenseman Cam York.

A little over two months ago, Yandle passed Doug Jarvis and played in his 965th straight game, a new ironman record.

“I’m grateful to play one game in this league, the best league in the world, surrounded by the best players,” Yandle, a three-time All-Star, said after breaking the record Jan. 25. “To be a part of the NHL and the NHL family for the last 16 years is more than a dream come true.”

As the record approached, Yandle was extremely humble, and said his wife played a big role in the streak. He called her the “unsung hero” behind it.

After he skated Saturday morning, Yandle said he talked with his wife, parents and brother on Friday night about his streak ending.

“It’s just one of those things you look back at and how long it’s been,” he said. “Obviously, it’s something that I take a lot of pride in. I’m fortunate to play one game in this league. I say it all the time: I’ve been blessed to be in this league as long as I have, and I owe pretty much my whole life to this league. It’s been a great journey, too.”

He said the “last few days have been a lot of reflecting, and I’m not really a guy who reflects too much, so it kind of hits you a bit.”

Yandle is the Cal Ripken of hockey, but his streak is expected to be surpassed early next season.

Kessel closing in

Arizona winger Phil Kessel is closing in on Yandle’s record. Kessel has played in 968 straight games –21 fewer than Yandle.

Kessel, 34, has 42 points (7-35) in 67 games this season. He has only seven goals, the lowest total, by far, in his 16-year career.

Yandle has played for four teams in his career: the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes, New York Rangers, Florida Panthers, and Philadelphia Flyers.

Yeo didn’t rule out Yandle playing some of the remaining 15 games this season.

Yandle thanked his teammates over the years, and said “all the guys who have gone to bat for me, just special guys I’ve played with, I’ve been thinking of how fortunate I was to have such good friends. Guys who have stuck up for me and had my back. That’s probably the one thing I reflected on the most.”

He said his Flyers teammates felt bad for the streak ending, and that he told them it’s “part of the business and you have to understand what the team is doing here. But having the guys’ support and the words they’ve said to me has been really, really special.”

Yandle lives with Flyers center Kevin Hayes. He was asked if he and Hayes had reflected on his streak.

“Actually not really too much,” Yandle said. “We haven’t really had the time. I’m sure we will at some point. I mean, we’re both the kind of guys who aren’t, what do they say, sappy about stuff like that. We just make jokes and watch TV.”

Breakaways

Carter Hart will start Saturday. … Right winger Travis Konecny is ill and will be replaced by Hayden Hodgson.

PHN: Flyers-Leafs preview.

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