Keith Yandle not taking NHL life for granted as ironman record nears

yandle ironman
Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

Doug Jarvis will finally have company when Keith Yandle takes the ice for the Flyers Monday night.

After 35 years, Jarvis will no longer be the sole holder of the NHL’s ironman record of 964 consecutive regular-season games played. Yandle will tie Jarvis during Philadelphia’s game against the Dallas Stars and then pass him, barring anything unforeseen, Tuesday night against the New York Islanders.

The 35-year-old Yandle saw his ironman streak begin on March 26, 2009 while with the Phoenix Coyotes in his third NHL season. He’s not missed a game since, even though on two occasions it nearly all came to an end.

Close calls

In Dec. 2016, while playing for the Florida Panthers, Yandle took an Aaron Ekblad slap shot off the foot during a game against the Boston Bruins. The injury was supposed to keep the defenseman out “for awhile,” according to then-Panthers coach Tom Rowe. Yandle was in the lineup the next night against the Detroit Red Wings and played 27 minutes.

“It was unbearable how painful it was,” Yandle said back in September of the friendly fire incident, which came during game No. 577 of the streak. “That night I remember being in my hotel room with two of the trainers working to just get it moving until two or three in the morning. I woke up and was able to move it a little bit. Once I got it in the boot, it was OK enough to go.”

At the start of the 2020-21 NHL season Yandle nearly found himself a healthy scratch while taking up residence in then-head coach Joel Quenneville’s dog house. The streak was at 866 games and the defenseman was practicing in secondary groups during training camp. Was it pressure from a new general manager to get the veteran to waive his no-move clause? Maybe. But several teammates reportedly stood up in support of him and there he was in the lineup on opening night.

Not only did Yandle keep the streak going, he also scored his 100th NHL goal that night during a win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

“I think every guy once you get to this level has the same type of compete and will to play,” Yandle said. “You want to be out there every day with your teammates, and I think for me I have been fortunate. I love coming to the rink whether it is practice day or game day. You love being here with the guys. The training staff and stuff like that I have had have been great and it is the same here.”

Appreciating every game

Early in Yandle’s career (and the streak’s) he played with Ray Whitney on the Coyotes. There was a vast difference in age (15 years) and NHL experience between the two, and Whitney was a proud veteran, one who was still putting up at least 50 points into his late 30s.

Seeing how Whitney took care of himself and appreciated his place in the game, even in the final years of a long career, was something that Yandle never forgot.

“I remember Ray Whitney said to me when I was young, as long as there’s an NHL symbol on your jersey, that means you’re having a good day,” Yandle said. “So I haven’t taken that for granted, that we play in the best league in the world with the best guys. It’s truly a blessing to put on an NHL uniform every day.”

Part of that appreciation comes from Yandle’s parents, who both worked for Federal Express.

“Definitely my parents had a huge, huge influence on me,” he said. “You know, just seeing hard work, seeing my parents going to work every day. My brother and sister are the same way. You don’t have to look too far for some great influences.”

Through the bumps, bruises, and busted jaw and teeth, which Yandle suffered in 2019 after taking a puck to the face, the mentality was always there.

Keep going, play through it if you can.

Now he’s on the cusp of a longtime NHL record.

“It’s kind of the way hockey players are built,” Yandle said. “You kind of try to play through as much pain as you can. Especially during the season, I don’t think there’s many guys that feel 100 percent. There’s been some times obviously that have not felt great and it was tough sledding. It’s one of those things that you just try to battle through it and try to help out your team.”

NHL ironman streaks

Doug Jarvis – 964 – 10/08/1975 – 10/10/1987
Keith Yandle – 963 – 3/26/2009 – 1/22/2022
Phil Kessel – 940 – 11/03/2009 – 1/22/2022
Garry Unger – 914 – 2/24/1968 – 12/21/1979
Patrick Marleau – 910 – 4/09/2009 – 5/12/2021
Steve Larmer – 884 – 10/06/1982 – 4/15/1993
Andrew Cogliano – 830 – 10/04/2007 – 1/13/2018

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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