Oft underappreciated, and never mentioned. The role of a stay-at-home defenseman is never a glamorous one, but an important one nonetheless. The ability to shut down your opponent’s top offensive threats night in and night out is critical for a hockey team’s success, and only those inside an organization know just how valuable that can be.
Outside of a pat on the back or a congratulatory utterance from a teammate on a job well done, a defensive defenseman rarely gets the credit or acclaim he deserves. No one in the WHL may know this more then Calgary Hitmen defenseman Darryl Yacboski.
Lurking in the shadows behind team captain and overage defenseman Patrick Weller, forgotten after Tampa Bay’s 2003 second round selection Mike Egener, and lost in the shuffle behind three 2004 NHL draft eligible defensemen in Jeff Schultz, Andy Rogers and Brett Carson stands Yacboski. While the stout rearguard may toil in obscurity, he is arguably the steadiest defenseman amongst the impressive crop on the Hitmen roster.
Yacboski seemingly goes unnoticed on a nightly basis, something that should be difficult for a 6’3″ defenseman. But by going unnoticed, it means his job is done. Yacboski shuts down opposing offenses one game at a time with few glaring mistakes.
Not everyone has overlooked Yacboski’s contributions to the Calgary Hitmen, however. It was the Colorado Avalanche who noticed something special in his game, with that team calling his name on day two of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. The Avalanche selected Yacboski with their seventh selection, 257th overall, last June.
Looking past a series of concussions sustained in his first two seasons of WHL action, the Colorado Avalanche quickly welcomed Yacboski to their organization, even giving him a good, long look during the team’s developmental and training camps.
Hockey’s Future caught up with Yacboski, a silver medalist with Team Canada at the World Under-17 Championships in 2001, to talk about the Calgary Hitmen, the Colorado Avalanche, and his experiences in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
HF: This Calgary Hitmen squad has had a lot of ups and downs this season, most recently the BC road trip and subsequent loss to Kootenay on home ice Wednesday night. Is the atmosphere in the dressing room after the game tonight a little calmer, in comparison to three nights ago?
DY: Yeah, when we got home, we had to regroup a little bit and we had a tough road trip and some tough injuries. This week we regained our focus, we settled down, and we really bonded as a team. Hopefully we can continue this into the playoffs.
HF: And speaking of the playoffs, how much damage can this Hitmen team do?
DY: Oh, quite a bit of damage. Right now we pretty much have our entire second line out and if we compete hard we can compete and beat any team. We might play this (Medicine Hat Tigers) team in the first round of the playoffs so we’ve got to compete for sixty minutes every game and we’ll do fine.
HF: What does a win against a team like Medicine Hat do for the confidence of this hockey club?
DY: It means we can beat any other team in this league. I mean, if we beat the top team in our division, it will totally boost our confidence out there on the ice.
HF: What are some of the adjustments this team has had to make on the ice over the course of this season?
DY: Well, as injuries went down things obviously had to change, but we just maintained our hard work and kept the puck in deep and forecheck and keep our game simple. We’ve got lots of good players, lots of talent, and lots of good defense so I mean, just keep it simple and we’ll be fine.
HF: The trade deadline brought in goaltender Barry Brust. What sort of adjustment have you defensemen been forced to make with a goaltender that likes to wander and play the puck so frequently?
DY: Actually, it makes it a lot easier for us defensemen. When the opposing players dump the puck in the zone, he can set up the play for us, rather then us going back there and taking a hit coming back. We become an outlet for him, and it makes it a lot easier on us, he’s like a third defenseman.
HF: Has this season been more relaxed for you in comparison to last season with the Regina Pats?
DY: It’s a nice fresh scene coming here to Calgary. Everyone has treated me well. There are a lot of really good defensemen here and we’ve got a really good core. It’s been really easy adjusting, the guys here are good.
HF: Are there any areas in your game that you feel need strengthening?
DY: I’ve always wanted to be better with my physical play. That’s the way I’ve got to play – physical. I’ve taken up a bit of fighting as well. I’ve just got to play my role. I also want to work on my offensive skills, but those will come.
HF: What do you consider to be your most important attributes out there on the ice?
DY: I’d say that I play very solid defensively, play tough hockey. I stick up for my teammates any night and I’m doing everything I can to help this hockey club, whether it be throw a hit, get into a fight, or score the occasional goal.
HF: You were a 7th round selection of the Colorado Avalanche. What were your reactions upon hearing you were selected?
DY: You know, I was really happy. For those first couple years (of Junior) were full of injuries. I wasn’t sure whether I’d go or where I’d go. When I got the call it was just a great experience. Even then, I got to participate in the Avalanche rookie camp this year and even the main camp with the big guys. Great experiences.
HF: What do you think you will bring to the Colorado Avalanche?
DY: Just solid defense. That’s why they drafted me. They drafted me to be physical and to protect players here and there and just play solid, and not try to do anything outside of what I’m capable of.
HF: Knowing Colorado’s tendency to deal their futures, prospects and picks, are you going to be watching the trade deadline with any sort of special attention?
DY: Well, you never know. A lot of different players are getting moved around to a lot of different teams. Nothing is certain, but we’ll see how it goes.
HF: You are one of the older players on the club, and have been through the Entry Draft process. Have any of the other draft eligible defensemen come to you for any advice on what to expect?
DY: You know, they ask me. A lot of guys ask me what professional camps are like and things of that sort, and how to prepare for the upcoming year. We’ve got a lot of good guys and they’re smart, they know a lot and they’ll learn a lot. They know there’s room for a lot of improvement so they’ll be prepared.
HF: What would you say the is biggest piece of advice you’ve given to some of your teammates, like Jeff Schultz, Brett Carson and Andy Rogers, all eligible for the 2004 NHL Entry Draft?
DY: You just have to be relaxed. These three guys are excellent, and they’ll be selected and invited to camp. You’ve got to come to camp in shape. The camp is a big first impression in all these camps. As long as you’re in shape and don’t leave anything behind you’ll be fine.