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by Anthony Perez / Arizona Coyotes
Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle is maturing on and off the ice.

Away from the rinks, Yandle plans to get married this summer. Inside the rinks, Yandle has notched 10 goals and 19 assists in 57 games. Beyond the stats, the consensus around Phoenix’s dressing room is that the fourth-round pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft is evolving from a raw young pro into a very confident and reliable NHL player.

“We can see so much more maturity in his game this season,” Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney said. “A couple of seasons ago, Keith wouldn’t get on the ice in the last five minutes of a tight game. Now, we have a lot more confidence in him and what he can do, and that’s why you’re seeing him out there a lot during crunch time.”
Keith Yandle

Yandle, 23, has worked hard to improve and stay in the NHL, and that dedication is paying off. His work ethic can be traced to his childhood.

Yandle grew up in Milton, Mass., which is about nine miles south of Boston. Yandle said he loved growing up in Milton, which he described as a close-knit, middle-class, Irish Catholic town.

“It’s a pretty tight community,” Yandle said. “There are a lot of good people there, and I’ve still got a lot of good friends there.”

Milton also is where Yandle learned to play hockey. His father was a high school hockey coach for 30 years, and some of Yandle’s first memories of the sport are of him skating with his father and siblings after his father’s practices.

Yandle loved to play hockey but his father stressed playing other sports to stay well rounded and to prevent getting burned out from playing one sport exclusively.

“We kind of did everything,” Yandle said. “My dad said it would help us fine-tune our hand-eye coordination and stuff like that… Plus, you don’t want to get burned out at an early age.”

When he wasn’t on skates, Yandle was playing basketball, football, baseball or lacrosse.

After his freshman year of high school, Yandle enrolled in the Cushing Academy and stopped playing other sports to focus on hockey.

After playing one season at Cushing, Yandle was drafted by the Coyotes in 2005. He spent the following season playing for the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Juniors. While there he notched 25 goals and 59 assists and posted an impressive plus-minus rating of 50 in 66 games. He was named the Canadian Major Junior Defenseman of the Year for his play in Moncton.

Yandle made his NHL debut with the Coyotes on Oct. 11, 2006. He played in seven games that season before being re-assigned to the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League, where he wound up leading all defensemen in points (33) and assists (27).

The Coyotes are glad Yandle decided to focus solely on hockey.

“I think he’s having a tremendous season,” Associate Coach Ulf Samuelsson said. “He’s taking steps toward establishing himself as a top-four defenseman in this league. Before this season he was more of an offensive player who had some defensive liabilities in his game, and he’s really worked hard on becoming stronger and quicker and more aware of how important the defensive side of the game is.”

Yandle appreciates that the coaches can see the hard work he’s putting into this season.

“It’s always good to hear that your coaches are saying good things about you,” Yandle said. “It helps inspire you to work even harder.”

Yandle's ever-growing confidence has been another key to his success this season.

“I’ve been here another year now, and every year you get more confident,” Yandle said. “When you start playing more minutes, you get the trust in the coaches and that always helps out.”

The coaches turned to Yandle to play more minutes early in the season because of injuries to Kurt Sauer, Ed Jovanovski and Zbynek Michalek. Yandle responded with stellar play at both ends of the ice.

Yandle relishes playing big minutes on a consistent basis.

“When you play more minutes you feel good and you feel like you’re helping the team,” Yandle said. “With guys being hurt you feel almost a little bit of an obligation to help out a little more, try to do more stuff and play more minutes.”

Yandle’s commitment to conditioning has allowed him to play those big minutes.

“I think his dedication the last few years to the off-ice training and nutrition has given him a chance to be as durable as he’s been for us,” Samuelsson said.

Yandle works out year-round to stay in shape for the physical challenges of the 82-game NHL season. His goal for the rest of the season is to continue his improved play and help the Coyotes keep winning games.

“I just want to keep playing hard, play good and get better everyday, and just do anything I can to help my team win,” Yandle said.

He added, “We’re playing pretty good hockey right now and we’ve got a good group of guys here. Everybody’s gelled really good and I think if we stay the course here we’ll be a team to be reckoned with.”

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