For Keith Yandle, the sentiment “Home is Where the Heart is”, can have a double meaning. While the 26-year-old calls Phoenix home during the season, his heart will always lie within the Boston community. A fact that rang true during and after April’s horrific Boston Marathon Bombing. If the hockey community was unfamiliar with the star defenseman before the attacks, they certainly knew who he was and what team he played for afterwards. A simple gesture for Yandle, not only proved to be a sign of “Boston Strong” support, but created a ripple effect uniting an entire hockey nation.
The now infamous skate with the simple words “Pray for Boston” scrawled along its base, will be auctioned off through NHL Alumni Raffles to benefit the Richard Family Fund.
“We played that Monday, and I kind of just wanted to do something to show my support and let everyone back home know that I was thinking of them,” said Yandle. “Even if one person saw it, it would’ve made me happy. It got blown up a little bit, but it was good and brought some awareness, just anything you can do during a time like that to help is good.”
Obviously, more than one person saw it and the impact of the gesture could be felt around the league.
“I wasn’t necessarily surprised, because I know how tight knit a community it is but it was definitely awesome to see. When something tragic happens, it brings out the best in people and I think it did that within the hockey community.”
However, what started with a skate, bloomed into a little bit more. Phoenix is a far cry from Boston, but the western conference, with Yandle’s help managed to find a way to show support. By now, everyone has heard of the youngest victim in the attacks, 8-year-old, Martin Richard, an avid hockey fan. Wearing a jersey donning his name, Yandle took pre-game warm ups in Chicago on the Saturday following the attacks. It was again a reminder of how the simplest things can hold such a large impact. Initially planning to auction off the jersey, which holds the autographs of the Phoenix Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks, it will now go to Richard’s family this summer, at their request. It’s a request that Yandle will carry-out in person.
“I’m definitely going to do that this summer, I haven’t yet. They’re obviously still going through some stuff and it hasn’t been the best time for them to do it. It’s whenever they’re ready,” said Yandle. “One of my uncles is friends with their family, so it’s getting in touch with him and whenever they want to do it. Then we’ll do it.”
A native of Milton, Massachusetts, it comes as no surprise that Yandle’s Boston ties run deep. In New England, for many, hockey is a way of life especially in a multiple child family. Following in a siblings skate strides is often second nature and the desire to play is almost expected.
“I probably started skating around 3 or 4, at least standing on skates,” said Yandle. “My older brother always played and it was one of those things, when your older brother is doing something, you always want to do it. I probably started playing on a team when I was 6.”
A product of a family in love with the game was a deciding factor early on and submersion in the game from all aspects only added fuel to the hockey dream.
“My dad always coached high school hockey here in Massachusetts and I would always be out skating with those guys,” said Yandle. “They were public high school players, obviously they were good players, but I thought they were the NHL, just guys that were so good. It was always fun skating with guys like that.”
Finding success at any level can be a challenge. The consistent support from not only his father on the ice but both of his parents off it will never go unnoticed and continues to be appreciated. Two off-ice inspirations are better than one and Yandle’s parents undoubtedly hold the title.
“My parents, both my parents, nowadays for parents being together that’s one thing and for everything that they did for me and my brother and my sister is amazing,” said Yandle. “They both worked 2-3 jobs, but always stopped for practice, baseball, football, whatever it was, whatever we wanted to do. It was one of those things that we scraped by money wise, but I can’t remember my parents ever saying no. They always found a way to get us to play a sport or whatever it was we wanted to do. It was awesome and they’re awesome.”
A hockey family through and through, the love of the game and the talent for the sport has been passed throughout the family. One of three children, in a tight knit family, all three siblings had a love for the ice.
“My sister played up until high school, she probably could have played Division 2 or 3, but decided to go to UNH,” said Yandle. “That’s where my brother went and where I was supposed to go, she wanted to go there to be with us. But she played club hockey in college and she still coaches youth girls hockey, so she’s still involved.”
A product of Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, like many New England hockey players, the University of New Hampshire was the next step. But Yandle ultimately chose to forgo his college eligibility and followed in the skate strides of many of his NHL peers; finding success in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). During the 2005 NHL entry draft, Yandle was picked in the 4th round, 105th overall by the team he now calls home, the Phoenix Coyotes.
After spending a majority of his playing career in the colder climates of New England and Quebec, it’s no surprise that Yandle enjoys the Arizona climate.
“Going to a game and it’s 80 degrees out,” said Yandle. “The weather, you can’t beat the weather.”
Although enjoyable, it isn’t just about the weather. Often considered one of the most non-traditional hockey markets in the league, playing in Phoenix allows players the added benefit of growing the game in a community that may not have even considered it before the franchise called Phoenix home.
“It’s fun to be a part of trying to get a city or a whole state behind us. Trying to get hockey noticed there, that’s a fun part of it,” said Yandle. “It’s tough at time when you’re not playing in front of a sold out arena. But you can see the youth programs in Arizona and every year it seems to get better and better. That’s partially because there’s a team there and kids that live there that have us to look up to. That right there is probably the best part of being in a non-traditional market.”
Finding success within the Coyotes system garnered a 5-year contract extension in 2011. It has also put the ever important “A” on his jersey. Acting as assistant captain can be an added pressure for some, but Yandle’s off-ice demeanor transitions nicely to the locker room.
“I’m the guy that tries to keep everything a little loose in the locker room,” said Yandle. “I try keep everyone a little loose, especially because we sometimes get tense before and after a game. At the end of the day, it is a game and you have to remember to have fun with it.”
In hockey, it’s always about camaraderie and supporting your peers, no matter what league they play in, that includes the females that hit the ice competitively. At the end of the day, hockey is hockey, that concept came into play for Yandle and his teammates this past season.
“Although I see it more at home, I feel like we have a lot of females coming out to the game and supporting us. We like to say that hockey’s for everyone,” said Yandle. “Perfect example, our whole team sat down and watched the Canada vs. USA women’s game this year, it was everyone cheering and getting into it. You can just tell how far women’s hockey has come and it definitely deserves the support it’s gaining.”
Hockey may be for everyone, but it takes more than dedication to get there. It’s about working hard, staying positive and remembering to have fun. All those and more are sentiments that have led to continued on and off-ice success for Yandle.
“Whatever it is, whatever your dream is, whether it be hockey or becoming a doctor, anything really, you’ve got to give 100% and try your hardest,” said Yandle. “You have to have fun with it, no matter what you’re doing if you have a tough day, try to have a good day the next one, just get back at it. Shoot high for your dreams and have fun.”
It’s been said, if you do what you love, you won’t work a day in your life. It’s clear as ice that Yandle does just that; loving the sport and living any hockey players dream, one stride at a time.