December 20, 2009

South Shore star keeps it local

by Bill Keefe

Charlie Coyle (photo: USA Hockey)

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

When the best player on your team is a distraction, someone seeking the limelight, it can be a difficult situation to create a successful team environment. Think Terrell Owens.

When the best player on your team is unassuming, a hard worker, someone who shares credit, it’s a great model for team success. Think Charlie Coyle.

Coyle, a 17-year-old right wing from Weymouth, Mass., has helped the South Shore Kings to a great start, with 14 wins, just two losses in regulation, and 32 points in the first 20 games, placing them in a battle for the EJHL’s South Division lead.

With a commitment to Boston University in his pocket and his status as a potential early-round pick in the upcoming NHL Draft, Coyle has plenty of on-ice game to pace the Kings’ pursuit of a crown. But combine his low-key likable personality, his work ethic, his willingness to do the little things and team-first attitude, and Coyle’s impact ripples throughout the locker room. And he is new to the room, after playing the last two years at Thayer Academy.

“I can’t say enough about the kid right now,” said Kings coach and former Boston College star Scott Harlow. “The only real criticism I have about Charlie Coyle is he is too unselfish. He’s always trying to set everyone else up and make the great play. It’s his personality. He doesn’t want to take the credit; he wants everyone else to get credit.”

Coyle is 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds and will play any way you want: grind along the boards, score, set up his teammates or play finesse. In late November, Coyle led the EJHL in assists -- with 24 in 19 games -- and was fourth in points with 32. NHL Central Scouting ranked him as an ‘A’ player in its preliminary rankings, signifying he is a potential first- or second-round pick.

“He has great deception with the puck,” Harlow said. “He sees the ice extremely well. He really thinks the game at a different level. He’s so big and so strong now. He has great hands. I think he has the whole package and he has the work ethic and attitude to go with it.

“You have these (scouts) looking for the perfect hockey player. Charlie Coyle may not be perfect, but he’s pretty damn close.”

Harlow knows Coyle well. His son, Matt, and Charlie are good friends, and they have been both teammates and opponents. Harlow has also coached Coyle for the last five years on the South Shore Dynamos, including one run to the national championship game.

“He doesn’t say a lot by nature,” Harlow said. “He’s always been one of the most popular kids on the teams. Everyone just respects him. He’s one of those types of kids others just gravitate to. Everyone else kinds of follows his lead.”

In terms of hockey, the person Coyle has followed has been his cousin, former BU and Chicago Blackhawk great Tony Amonte (Hingham, Mass.). By not sharing last names, the relationship is not as obvious as other family hockey connections, which has helped alleviate some of the discussions that tend to arise around the glass.

“I have no pressure to live up to any expectations,” Coyle said. “I’m my own self. I’ll always try to follow his footsteps. Thayer, BU – I’ve always wanted to go to BU my whole life. He went to the NHL (and) I’ve always wanted to go to the NHL all my life. He’s helped me along the way a lot, giving me pointers here and there.”

Amonte’s paved path to Thayer and BU is an added reason for Coyle to stay local. He admits he was in no rush to pack up and move away to play hockey. If he had to, he said, he would, but it wasn’t his first choice.

In fact, Coyle first burst onto the public scene as a freshman playing for his hometown varsity at Weymouth High. The underdog Wildcats became just the second public school team to reach the Super 8 final, advancing before losing to BC High. Coyle scored the game-winner in the opening-round game against Malden Catholic. Another cousin, Timmy King, was one of the senior stars of the team and, Coyle said, to play with him and for his hometown was special.

Coyle then went to Thayer for two years, leading the Tigers in scoring both seasons. At the end of the summer, he was selected for his first national team, playing for the USA Under-18 Selects at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament in Slovakia. He netted two goals, including a game-winner, in four games.

In November, Coyle joined the U.S. Under-18 team for the Four Nations Cup in Finland. He scored the game-winner in the final game, a 3-2 win over Switzerland, which wrapped up the tournament title for the U.S. with a 3-0 record.

The Indiana Ice of the USHL hold his draft rights, but Coyle decided to stay local and play for the Kings this year. He also returned to Weymouth High to graduate with his friends and the people he started high school with.

“Thayer was good,” Coyle said. “I had a lot of friends there. The EJ has worked out. I thought it was the next step to go to BU. I’m playing for a coach I’ve known and played for before. He’s a great coach and everything. This was perfect.”

For the year to finish perfectly, the Kings would win the EJ and Coyle would be drafted as highly as possible. With Chris Wagner (Walpole, Mass.) and Shane Walsh (West Roxbury, Mass.) also pacing the offense, and strong play coming from goalies Brad Barone (Medfield, Mass.) and Sam Marotta (Bridgewater, Mass.), the Kings have the pieces in place.

As for the draft, multiple NHL scouts are at most games watching Coyle. As with most other things, he has a good perspective on it.

“You can’t not think about it,” Coyle said. “It’s in the back of my head a lot, but I try to play the game how I know to play it and everything will take care of itself after that. There’s not too much pressure. That’s when you mess up.”

Bill Keefe can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.