Florida Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle said he is looking forward to attending the annual Bunker Hill Day Parade in Charlestown.
“I go to the parade every year,” said Yandle. “I see my relatives. I go to the top of Auburn Street and watch the parade. I always enjoy doing that and bringing the kids. It’s a tradition that I’ll keep going with my kids.”
Yandle, 32, was back in familiar surroundings this past weekend as his Panthers team defeated the Boston Bruins, 4-1, Saturday afternoon at the TD Garden. Yandle, whose NHL-leading streak of consecutive games played is approaching 800, had a sizable rooting section from Charlestown in the stands.
Yandle’s father, legendary high school hockey coach Buddy Yandle, grew up in Charlestown and several members of the Yandle family still reside here.
“I used to skate all the time at the Charlestown rink,” said Yandle. “I loved that rink. I definitely enjoyed my visits there.”
He was a standout at Milton High School, helping to lead the Wildcats to an 18-2 record. “We had a really good team,” recalled Yandle. “We lost our first two games of the season and then we ran the table. It was a fun year. We lost to Xaverian to get to the Super 8.”
Interestingly, Yandle was not a year-round hockey player in his youth.
“I played everything growing up,” said Yandle. “My dad didn’t let us play hockey if it wasn’t hockey season. I never played any summer tournaments. I played baseball, basketball, lacrosse, football. I did whatever was available.”
He went on to excel at Cushing Academy where he was a teammate of Ray Bourque’s son, Chris, and other future NHL draft picks.
“Around my junior year in high school, the [NHL] draft year was when I figured maybe I could take this to the next level and make it to the NHL,” said Yandle. “When you see guys like Keith Tkachuk and you’re a family friend with somebody like that (Yandle’s grandfather and Tkachuk’s father worked together in the Boston Fire Department) – you are inspired.”
He is also in touch with other NHL players with Townie connections, including Jimmy Vesey of the New York Rangers. “Jimmy’s dad was one of my uncle’s best friends – Big Jimmy was basically like an uncle growing up, always around. He’s another guy that I looked up to when he was playing for the Bruins. I’m friends with Jimmy and Nolan and it’s nice to see those guys have success.”
“And Matt (Calgary Flames) and Brady (Ottawa Senators) Tkachuk were young kids when I was with Phoenix (Coyotes). They used to come to the rink. My first year, Keith let me live in his house. I’ve known his children since they were young.”
During his prep school career, the opportunity arose for Yandle to join his older brother, Brian, in the UNH ice hockey program, but Keith elected to play for the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He began his NHL career with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Yandle is currently the NHL’s No. 1 ironman with a decade-long achievement of not missing a game. He has earned the respect and admiration of players throughout the league for his toughness and team-first leadership. He is also a fan-favorite in Florida.
“It’s [the streak] obviously something I take pride in,” said Yandle. “I think it stems from my background that my parents went to work every day and they didn’t work easy jobs. They went to work every day to make ends meet for my brother, my sister, and me. I never saw them take a day off.”
He spends his off-seasons working out with other NHL players in Foxboro.
Yandle’s enjoying his tenure with the Florida Panthers. “We have a great group here. We’re definitely on the rise. We have the young talent and it’s fun to be a part of this organization.”
The Panthers practiced last Friday at BU’s Agganis Arena. As a youth, he remembers playing a charity game at BU’s Walter Brown Arena. Playing at the Garden, not far where he began his journey to the NHL, is always a highlight on the schedule.
“It’s always fun to play here,” said Yandle. “There’s always a lot of people to see after the game.”
Keith Yandle’s message to young hockey players in Charlestown: “I think it’s to always have fun and always have that passion, to have fun everyday playing hockey or whatever you’re doing. Enjoy it and work as hard as you can every day.”