Idaho Steelheads enforcer: ‘If I’m on the ice, you’re going to answer to me’

Jeremy Yablonski knows his role, and he does it well.

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comMarch 8, 2014 

— At a time when fighting’s place in hockey is up for debate and the number of enforcers is declining, forward Jeremy Yablonski embraces his job as tough guy.

“We all have our roles and everybody should be comfortable doing what they do. Let the goal scorers score, let the defensemen play defense and if someone wants to act tough, well, they can come find No. 33,” said Yablonski, a fan favorite in his third stint with the Steelheads.

Yablonski, 33, is in his 14th professional season, but time has not diminished his desire — or willingness — to mix it up. He sees himself as a protector and policeman.

“It’s a major deterrent for guys not to be idiots, taking cheap shots,” Yablonski said. “If I’m on the ice, you’re going to answer to me.”

Yablonski drew a 4-minute slashing penalty on one of his few shifts during a 4-2 loss to last-place Las Vegas on Friday, the Steelheads’ fourth consecutive loss.

In 510 professional games, Yablonski has been penalized 2,035 minutes. In his lone NHL game, in 2003 for the St. Louis Blues, he drew a 5-minute major for fighting.

Count Steelheads coach Brad Ralph among the old-school defenders of fighting in the game.

“The refs and the league, whatever call they make or decision they make, it’s never going to be justice for what happens on the ice,” Ralph said. “Players have to be held accountable for their actions, and the only way for them to be held accountable is knowing that if you do something disrespectful or your actions aren’t on the level, you’re going to have to pay the price for it or, at least, answer the bell for it.”

Yablonski, a former amateur boxing champion in Canada as a youth and a mixed martial arts fighter in recent offseasons, makes sure his opponents pay a price. It doesn’t matter if you’re one of his best friends — like Trevor Gillies, who served as the best man in his wedding and who Yablonski fought in an epic 2010 bout — or one of his worst enemies, Yablonski is going to hit you. Hard.

“I definitely don’t want to want to hurt anybody serious where there’s an injury that is going to be a detriment to their career, but when I’m done with you, you’re going to know it. Whether you’re missing teeth or you’ve got a broken nose or a black eye, you’re going to know it. I’m not there to be nice,” Yablonski said.

He joined the Steelheads as a 20-year-old in 2001-02, his second professional season. He became just the second player in franchise history to accumulate more than 300 penalty minutes.

He also fell in love with the city. Yablonski and his family made the city their permanent home when he returned to the organization for three games in 2005-06 and 41 games in 2006-07.

His NHL days are almost assuredly in the past, but Yablonski, who has been limited to eight games this season because of surgery on his left hand, isn’t ready to hang up his skates. He played the past two seasons in Russia’s KHL and still loves the game.

And enforcing.

“It’s not something I get too anxious for. It’s something I love to do. When the gloves come off, I’m at home,” Yablonski said. “A calmness comes over me because I’m in a place I’m comfortable with.”

Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter; @murphsturph

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