The big day has finally arrived.
Keith Yandle will play his record-tying 964th consecutive NHL game when the Philadelphia Flyers host the Dallas Stars on Monday. Tuesday night, the defenseman will stand alone when he suits up for No. 965 at UBS Arena, facing the New York Islanders.
Keith Yandle, on track to tie the NHL’s iron man record tonight, is present for morning skate. pic.twitter.com/An5buSGYuq
— Olivia Reiner (@ReinerOlivia) January 24, 2022
Never one to play up his achievement, Yandle attributed his streak to “a lot of luck,” when he signed on with the Flyers last July.
“Great trainers, good doctors, everything the NHL provides us,” he said. “I think it’s just my love for the game as well. I love coming to the rink. I love going to practice, games, being at the rink. It’s the best job in the world. For me, it’s one of those things that I call it too, little bit of FOMO. I hate missing out on anything, especially when it’s with your teammates. For me, it’s just wanting to be there and to be able to help out.”
Near Misses Along The Way
The physical nature of pro hockey is what makes a streak like this so remarkable.
“There’s been some times, obviously, that I’ve not felt great and it was tough sledding,” Yandle admitted on Sunday. “But it’s one of those things. You just try to battle through it and try to help out your team.”
The most notorious example came in November of 2019. He was already past 800 consecutive games when a puck to the face knocked out nine of his teeth. But after enduring the necessary repairs, he was right back in the lineup for the Florida Panthers’ next game.
“It’s always been a fear of mine, going to the dentist,” he said. “But Marty Robbins, the guy who did all my work, was unreal and took really good care of me.
“It was tough with the broken jaw — playing with the full cage and everything, that was kind of brutal,” he admitted. “But I remember talking with Bobby Orr after that game. He came to the game in Florida and he said, ‘I don’t understand. You can skate, you can play.’
“It was one of those things — when a legend like that is saying it, you’ve got to suck it up and play.”
Now 35, Yandle’s streak began on March 26, 2009, when he was in his third year with the then-Phoenix Coyotes. Drafted in the fourth round in 2005, he put up 84 points in his lone season of junior hockey, with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL. He turned pro just after his 20th birthday, at the beginning of the 2006-07 season. After 99 games in the AHL across two seasons, he was an NHL regular by the end of the 2007-08 campaign.
Yandle’s career took him from the Coyotes to the New York Rangers, where he was a trade-deadline acquisition on March 1, 2015. As an impending unrestricted free agent, his rights were traded to the Florida Panthers in June of 2016. Three days later, he signed a seven-year deal worth $44.45 million.
Yandle was scratched for three of the Panthers’ six playoff games last spring, but the postseason does not factor into consecutive game streaks.
Last summer, the Panthers bought out the final two years of Yandle’s contract. At that point, he signed on with the Flyers for one year at $800,000 — reuniting with his former Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, and his good friend Kevin Hayes.
A Topsy-Turvy Season
The season hasn’t worked out as planned. Vigneault was fired in early December, and Hayes has been limited to 20 games as he deals with ongoing issues after surgery to correct an abdominal injury.
Through it all, Yandle has persisted — averaging a higher-than-expected 15:11 per game on an injury-depleted Flyers defense and putting up 13 assists.
He has even managed to steer clear of the virus that causes Covid-19, which has hit a number of Philadelphia players this year including Yandle’s housemate, Hayes.
“That’s just the times that we’re living in,” he said. “It’s stressful for everyone that’s involved and you don’t want to have any guys miss games because of that, especially guys that are feeling okay.
“I’d say it added a little more stress (to his pursuit of the streak). But, you know, I just tried to stay safe and do my part.”
The Torch Is Passed
When Yandle sets the new record on Tuesday, he’ll dethrone Doug Jarvis, the current Vancouver Canucks’ senior advisor who has held the title of NHL Ironman since 1988.
Both players attribute their consistency to their love of hockey.
“I really just enjoyed playing the game,” Jarvis said Monday. “I just wanted to play, to be in the lineup night after night.
“Gary Unger had the record at 914 (set in 1979). It was nothing that I consciously thought of, in terms of surpassing that number. I just loved to play the game. I wanted to be in the lineup and before I knew it, the numbers had added up.”
Even with his unique achievement, Yandle doesn’t believe he’s any different from other players in the league.
“At the end of the day, we’re playing a game that we all dreamt of playing growing up,” he said. “To be here and playing the NHL — I remember Ray Whitney said to me, when I was young he said, ‘As long as there’s an NHL symbol on your jersey, that means you’re having a good day.’
“I haven’t taken that for granted. We play in the best league in the world, with the best guys, and it’s truly a blessing to put on an NHL uniform every day.”
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