By Chris Langrill
The Idaho Statesman
BOISE, Idaho – If you go to Qwest Arena for a hockey game this weekend, some of the Idaho Steelheads’ most ardent fans will be wearing jerseys with the names of former players on their backs.
There might be an “Ingraham” or a “Shockey.”
You might even run into a “Yablonski.”
There’s a difference with that jersey, though. That former fan favorite, Jeremy Yablonski, is back playing with the team.
“I wasn’t here when he was here before (during the 2001-2002 season), so I didn’t realize how much people loved him,” said Bonnie Way Snider, the director of communications for the Steelheads. “The response to his return has been incredible.”
Snider said the organization has received numerous e-mails, phone calls and other forms of support since the 6-foot-1, 235-pound right wing signed with the team last week.
He saw his first action with Idaho on Wednesday night against the Phoenix RoadRunners. He was plus-1 with one shot and four penalty minutes in the 4-2 victory. Idaho and Phoenix continue their three-game series at 7:10 Friday at Qwest Arena.
Yablonski, nicknamed “Yabo,” said he has a special bond with Steelheads fans, and he’s happy to be back in Boise.
“This is one city I will never forget playing in,” he said, “and that’s because of the fans.”
Why did he become such a fan favorite during his first go-around?
“I always played hard. I played reckless,” Yablonski said. “I did a lot of the fighting.”
Ah, yes, the fighting.
Yablonski definitely played the role of enforcer during his first go-around with the Steelheads. He had 303 penalty minutes to go along with two goals and one assist in 69 games with Idaho, which was then part of the WCHL.
Since he left Idaho, the former Golden Gloves boxer from Canada has continued to have his share of scrapes on the ice. He has played in the ECHL, AHL and even spent a month with the St. Louis Blues of the NHL.
He played one game for St. Louis on Dec. 30, 2003, and earned 5 penalty minutes for (what else?) fighting.
“You know your role,” Yablonski said. “I tried to provide a spark. I tried to fight Donald Brashear, but he didn’t want to fight.”
He did find a willing sparring partner in the Philadelphia Flyers’ Todd Fedoruk, who played for Trenton of the ECHL in 1999-2000, however.
And how did his one fight in the NHL go?
“Excellent. I took him down with a hard right,” Yablonski said.
Still, Yablonski said he couldn’t have made it to the NHL by being a one-dimensional player, and he thinks Steelheads fans will see an improvement in his overall play.
“When I was here years ago, I was mostly just a fighter,” Yablonski said. “But to play in the AHL and NHL, I can’t just be a fighter. I would be a liability.
“I’ve improved on skating. I’m definitely a better skater.”
Yablonski remains tied to an NHL contract with the Nashville Predators. He was reassigned to Idaho by the Milwaukee Admirals, Nashville’s AHL affiliate.
He had one assist and 82 penalty minutes in 30 games with Milwaukee.
“Things weren’t working out the greatest in Milwaukee and Nashville,” Yablonski said.
He could be called back to Milwaukee at any time, but he hopes he’s able to be with Idaho for a playoff run.
“My first year here, we lost in Game 7 of the (WCHL) finals,” Yablonski said. “I’d love to have another chance to win with guys like Burty (Scott Burt) and Mylsy (Jeremy Mylymok).”
Steelheads coach Derek Laxdal hopes so.
“Hopefully, he’s going to be a guy who, when we go into Alaska and Vegas, nobody is going to take liberties with us,” Laxdal said. “He will make us tougher.”
Yablonski has purchased a house in Columbia Village in Southeast Boise, and plans to live there in the offseason. He hopes to get involved in youth hockey clinics, something Mylymok has already started doing.
“It would be great working with (Mylymok),” Yablonski said. “Hopefully, we can team our resources and get together on things.”
“We see a lot of kids leaving the Treasure Valley to further their instruction,” Mylymok said. “But between myself and Scotty Burt and Yablonski, we feel we could pool our resources and instead of having the kids spend money on airfare and everything, we can keep it in-house.”
Besides, it doesn’t hurt to get a new player thrown into the mix.
“Some of the Phoenix guys came up to me before the game (Wednesday night) and said, ‘We heard you got Yablonski. Oh, great.’
“Not too many guys are going to go after him unless they want to try to prove themselves,” Mylymok said. “He’s a true heavyweight.”