When Cal Ripken Jr. surpassed Lou Gehrig’s MLB consecutive game record, he really didn’t make a big fuss about it.
In fact, the Hall of Fame shortstop of Baltimore Oriole glory, went on to play another 532 straight games before sitting one out.
Back in January, Flyers defenseman Keith Yandle found himself in the same scenario and when he passed Doug Jarvis for the most NHL consecutive games played, he accepted the mantle with grace and humility.
So when Yandle’s amazing ironman streak of 989 straight games was set to come to an end on Saturday night, no one was surprised when he accepted the news with similar understated comments.
Yandle, 35, signed with the Flyers this season having not missed a game since March, 26, 2009. To be honest, it’s been a tough year for both him (an NHL-worst minus-32) and the team.
In a way, he knew this day might be coming. Still, the development in Philadelphia sent a ripple of reaction through the NHL.
After skating with injured and spare players at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, New Jersey on Saturday morning, Yandle made it clear he was proud of the streak but was ready to move on if the Flyers need his services over the last 14 games.
“It’s kind of one of those things where you know at the end of the year, when you’re signing young guys and getting free agents out of college, you know they’re going to give them a chance to play,’’ Yandle said. “You have to respect that out of the business side of it and what they’re trying to do here. I think for me, it’s just continue to come to the rink and help young guys out. Be a good teammate and be here for guys.’’
Interim head coach Mike Yeo admitted it was a tough decision but the organization wants to get a good look at some of its top prospects, including Ronnie Attard, the Western Michigan product who will make his NHL debut on Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“What went into the decision, we’re at the point in the season where it’s important we get some young players in,’’ Yeo said. “We have to have an eye on the future. We want to give some new guys an opportunity.’’
Ever the good teammate, Yandle was out skating with some of the injured and spare players on Saturday morning. He had spoken earlier with Yeo and general manager Chuck Fletcher about the decision, so the skate-around probably was a little emotional.
Yandle countered that thinking a bit.
“It’s tough to have a bad day in the NHL,’’ he said. “Getting the news that you’re not playing is not what you want to hear. And that’s every single guy. Every guy wants to be playing and be on the ice, going to battle with their teammates. But once you’re on the ice, you’re feeling like a kid again. For me, it’s just trying to stay positive.’’
Yeo praised Yandle’s work ethic and his overall contributions to the team.
“He received (the news) exactly the way you would expect,’’ Yeo said. “He’s nothing but a phenomenal pro. He handled it extremely well. Obviously disappointed, which is what you would expect from a competitor. My only hope is he recognizes what an amazing thing he has done. Not many can say they’ve done something that no one in the history of the NHL has done. No way does this diminish what he’s accomplished.’’
The coach said Yandle’s presence is well respected in the locker room.
“The amount of experience he has, the leadership he can provide for the young players has been outstanding,’’ Yeo said. “I’ve seen at times where older players can be kind of jealous. They feel threatened by them. Keith has been nothing but supportive, professional and that makes things so much easier on those guys.’’
Make no mistake, it wasn’t an easy call for Yeo to make.
“Players want to play, they’re competitors,’’ he said.
Yandle’s streak is safe until at least next season. The guy chasing him on the alltime list, runnerup Phil Kessel of Arizona, sits 21 back (968) and the Coyotes have only 14 games left on the schedule.
In the days leading up to Saturday, Yandle was able to look back and reflect on what he achieved.
“I did a little bit of talking last night with my wife, my brother, my parents,’’ he said. “It’s just one of those things you kind of look back at, how long it’s been, it is something I take a lot of pride in. I’m fortunate to play one game in this league. I say all the time I’ve been blessed to be in this league as long as I have and I pretty much owe my whole life to this league. It’s been a great journey, too. You look back and you think of your first game. It’s been one of those things where the last couple days have been a lot of reflecting and I’m not really one to reflect too much. It kind of hits you a little bit but just fortunate to be here.’’
Which of the memories has stood out the most?
“Probably just all the teammates, all the guys who have gone to bat for me,’’ he said. “Just special guys I’ve played with, a lot of that I’ve been thinking of. How fortunate I was to have such good friends. Guys that have stuck up for me, guys that have had my back. That’s one thing I’ve probably reflected on the most.
There are a number of guys on the team with Boston connections, including boyhood friend Kevin Hayes as well as Cam Atkinson.
“You could tell guys felt bad for me,’’ Yandle said. “They wanted me to play, they wanted me to keep it going. But it’s part of the business. You have to understand what the team is doing here. Having the support of the guys in there has been really, really special.’’
Now that it’s over, when will the reality of the situation sink in?
“I don’t know if it’s really hit me completely,’’ he said. “I don’t know when it will. I really didn’t try to think about it too much. Just go out and play. Maybe now in the next day or two it might hit me.’’
Yandle and Hayes haven’t had time to really rehash everything and when they do, chances are no one will be reaching for the old Kleenex.
“We don’t really have the time,’’ Yandle said. “I’m sure we will at some point. We’re not the kind of guys who are too ‘sappy’ about stuff like that. We just make jokes and watch TV.’’