During his time at Mount Allison (1976–81), Yates was an Atlantic University Sport (AUS) First Team All-Star in 1981 when he recorded 16 goals and 56 assists for 72 points in 21 games. Following the 1981 AUS season, Yates joined the Binghamton Whalers of the American Hockey League (AHL) where he played in 14 games.
Yates signed as a free agent with the Hartford Whalers following the end of his season in Binghamton. He returned in 1981-82 for his first full season in Binghamton before breaking through in 1982-83.
During the 1982-83 season, Yates had a career year with the Binghamton Whalers capturing the John B. Sollenberger Trophy (as top scorer), the Les Cunningham Award (as league MVP), and the Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award (for sportsmanship), and he was named an AHL First Team All-Star.
Spending a better part of the 1983-84 season in the AHL, Yates made his NHL debut during that season with Hartford, playing in seven games, and recording a goal and an assist.
In 1984-85, Yates found himself in Germany as a member of Mannheimer ERC before returning to the AHL with the Fredericton Express for the end of the regular season. He returned to Germany the following season and again made a return to the AHL with the Rochester Americans at the end of the 1985-86 season.
Yates made Switzerland his home for the next five seasons, suiting up for EHC Kloten, while playing one season (1990–91) with SC Rapperswil-Jona. Finishing in the top ten in scoring on two separate occasions (fourth in 1987-88 and second 1988-89), Yates played in just two games in 1991-92 with SC Rapperswil-Jona. before joining HC Auronzo in Italy for his final season as a professional player.
Between 1992 and 2000, Yates coached in Germany for ERC Schwenninger (1992–93), Kassel Huskies (1993–1996) and Hamburg Crocodiles (1996–2000). At the conclusion of his professional playing career, he had played in seven NHL games, registering two points.
From 2000 to 2006 he was an assistant coach with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch. He has been the head coach since 2006.