Keith Yandle to give 'Martin Richard' jersey to family of 8-year-old bombing victim

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Keith Yandle will not auction off the Phoenix Coyotes jersey he wore in warm-ups Saturday night to honor Martin Richard, the 8-year-old hockey fan who died in the Boston Marathon bombings last week.

The family has reached out to say it would rather have the jersey itself.

Yandle hopes that one day, when the Coyotes’ season is over and he’s back home in Boston, he will be able to deliver the jersey to the family personally. He hopes to go with his wife’s uncle, Sean O’Brien, a Boston fire lieutenant who was on the scene of the bombings, and O’Brien’s 9-year-old daughter, Ava, a classmate and close friend of Richard’s.

“It’ll be tough,” said Yandle on Monday. “But it’ll be something they wanted, and it will be special giving it to them.”

Yandle wanted to do something, anything. He is the grandson of a Boston firefighter. He has a child himself and another one due soon. He grew up in Milton, maybe 20 minutes from the marathon finish line, and returns every summer. When he speaks of home, his Boston accent comes back strong.

Last Monday, he had a pregame meal and went to his place in the Phoenix area. He noticed something unsettling – group texts and email messages in which friends and family members were asking things like, “Is everybody OK? Where are you?”

“And then I turned on the news,” he said, “and it was a pretty scary thing to see.”

Two bombs had gone off on Boylston Street. Yandle knew so many people in and around the area – spectators, runners, first responders.

Yandle’s brother, Brian, was watching the marathon with his 6-year-old son, Brian Jr. They were about 800 yards away from the finish line. They started walking toward it, but they had been at the Red Sox game earlier and were tired. They turned around and went home.

Many of Yandle’s buddies were there. One of them was running. Brendan Byrne finished about six minutes before the bombs went off. His parents stood right at the row of flags about five minutes before the first blast.

O’Brien was stationed at Boylston and Fairfield, about 300 yards from the finish line. He said he was with Mike Foley, who grew up with Yandle and served in the U.S. Army in Iraq. He said they could hear and feel the first blast, and Foley knew immediately it was a bomb. They hopped a fence and ran toward the smoke, as others ran away.

“And then the second one went off [about a block away],” O’Brien said. “We were in the second pile.”

In an online chat with buddies, Yandle asked if anyone had an idea of something he could do. Ryan Whitney, a Boston native who plays for the Edmonton Oilers, suggested he write “PRAY FOR BOSTON” on his skates.

Yandle had the Coyotes’ equipment man write the message in black marker on the white plastic above his blade, because he didn’t trust his own handwriting. He wore the message that night against the San Jose Sharks and has continued to wear it since.

“It was a hard day for everyone,” Yandle said. “I just wanted everyone back home to know I was praying for them and with them in spirit.”

Later came official word that three people had been killed and dozens had been injured. One of the dead was Richard. He was from the Dorchester part of Boston. Yandle’s brother lives there. Yandle’s wife, Kristyn, grew up there.

“It’s a tight-knit community,” Yandle said. “Everybody knows everybody.”

O’Brien’s daughter was in the same Grade 3 class with Richard at Neighborhood House Charter School. O’Brien said they were part of “a very tight crew” of five or six friends.

Yandle texted O’Brien, asking if there was anything he could do.

One of the photos released of Richard showed him smiling at a Boston Bruins game. Before the Coyotes played Saturday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, Yandle warmed up in a jersey with “MARTIN RICHARD” across the back. It was No. 8.

“I just wanted to show the family that I was thinking about them and trying to have their son’s spirit live on, just to get a game in the NHL and have him out there on my jersey,” Yandle said. “It was just something. I just wanted to show my respects to them.”

O’Brien said Yandle’s gesture was “from the heart.” The idea to auction it off was secondary.

“If Keith was a garbage man in Boston, he’d want to go over there and cut their lawn,” O’Brien said. “He’s just that type of kid. He’s a great kid. …

“You can count professional hockey players from this part of the world on one hand. To have someone who excels as much as Keith does is impressive. It makes for a small world. He wants to do something for the family. He doesn’t want to throw money at it. He wants to do something that will last.”

Yandle said a member of Richard’s family reached out to his brother Sunday and asked for the jersey. He said that was “even better.” They can always auction off other stuff to raise money.

He talked to O’Brien on Sunday and told him he wanted to deliver the jersey himself this summer. He asked O’Brien if he’d go with him. O’Brien said he would.

They just want to help any way they can and respect the family’s wishes.

“I think when the season’s over I’ll reach out to [the family], and if it’s OK, Keith and I will walk over, maybe take Ava with us,” O’Brien said. “We’ll probably take the jersey over to the Richards, if it’s OK with them.”

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