August 25, 2014

Coyle ready to build on a postseason to remember

Charlie Coyle finally cashed in on his decision to leave BU early, scoring 12 goals and 18 assists in 70 games for the playoff-bound Wild last season. (Photo/Getty Images)

By Roman J. Uschak

Former Boston University forward Charlie Coyle had his whole life planned years ago — at least the employment part.

“I think my mom has a paper I did in school where I had it all mapped out,” he said earlier this summer from his East Weymouth, Mass., home. “I would go to BU, play in the NHL and win the Stanley Cup.”

So far, two out of three.

Coyle, 22, who now plies his trade with the Minnesota Wild, is coming off of his first full NHL campaign, one in which he tallied 12 goals and 18 assists for 30 points in 70 games. He also made his Stanley Cup playoff debut, collecting three goals and seven points in 13 contests as the Wild made it to the Western Conference semifinals.

“It was awesome,” said the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Coyle, who was originally selected by the San Jose Sharks in the first round (28th overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft before his rights were dealt to Minnesota. “It was my first season in the NHL with a few other guys, and it was nice to experience the grind of it all.”

Coyle’s hockey journey, however, began in the Bay State long before he made it to the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.

He registered 21-42-63 points in 42 outings with the South Shore Kings in 2009-10, after previously playing for the Boston Junior Terriers, and garnered Eastern Junior Hockey League Rookie of the Year honors prior to enrolling at BU. He also plied his trade at Thayer Academy and Weymouth High, the latter where he helped the Wildcats to the Super 8 championship game at TD Garden.

“I played with his father way back when,” said South Shore head coach Scott Harlow (East Bridgewater, Mass.), himself a former South Shore Braves forward and Boston College All-America selection. “My son, Matt, who’s at Brown, grew up playing against Charlie and is a good friend of his.”

Harlow related that he watched Coyle develop for 15 years, from boy to man, and saw how he strengthened his game in that time to play any kind of game.

“The biggest thing is his ability to play in any situation,” said Harlow, who also has coached at Stonehill College. “He’s a power-play guy, he can kill penalties, play first line or fourth line — and with the NHL, that’s attractive. He can play in any kind of role, and his consistency also really stood out.”

Coyle capped his scholastic career by taking home the 2009-10 John Carlton Memorial Trophy, annually awarded by the Boston Bruins to the top high school senior or junior-level player in Eastern Massachusetts. After that it was off to Commonwealth Avenue, where his cousin, Tony Amonte (Hingham, Mass.), had played back in the early 1990s prior to starring in the NHL for 15 seasons.

“It was my dream school since I was a kid,” said Coyle. “I always dreamed of playing at BU because of Tony, and it was a dream come true. I met a lot of good people and players, and it was a great experience playing for a guy like Jack Parker.”

In his first NCAA season with the Terriers, Coyle tallied seven goals and 26 points in 37 contests to cop 2010-11 Hockey East Rookie of the Year accolades. BU won the Icebreaker Tournament but finished third in the Beanpot and was then upended in three games by Northeastern in the Hockey East playoffs.

Coyle put up 14 points in 16 games the next year at BU but felt it was time for a change in his career. He played his final game for the Terriers that December, registering an assist at Maine a few days before leaving college — and in fact, the entire country, as he headed north to Canada.

He participated in his second IIHF World Junior Championship with the American squad in Alberta, one year after winning bronze with the U.S. in upstate New York, before heading east to New Brunswick and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

“It was a hard decision to make,” Coyle recalled of leaving BU. “I knew I was going pro the next year. I wanted to get more preparation, get more games and focus 100 percent on hockey.”

In less than a half-season with the Saint John Sea Dogs, Coyle scored 15 goals and added 23 assists in 23 appearances. He also was named CHL Player of the Week after recording 10 points in two games at the start of Saint John’s QMJHL playoff run, as the Sea Dogs went on to win the league’s President’s Cup before advancing to the semifinals of the 2012 Memorial Cup.

Coyle also earned the Guy Lafleur Trophy as the QMJHL’s playoff MVP after registering 34 points in 17 postseason games, while also signing a three-year entry-level deal with the Wild.

“I never thought I would play in the ‘Q’,” he admitted. “Everyone has a path, and that’s the one I took. It was a good experience, and it helped me.”

Charlie Coyle scored 40 points in 53 games for Boston University, winning the Hockey East Rookie of the Year award in his freshman season. But he wanted something more, and left BU midway through his sophomore year. (Photo/Dave Arnold, New England Hockey Journal)

Coyle’s next stop was Texas, where he suited up for the American Hockey League’s Houston Aeros. He totaled 14 goals and 25 points in 47 AHL regular-season contests as he made the transition to the pros.

“It worked out well,” said Coyle. “Your main goal is to play in the NHL, but it wasn’t a bad thing at all. We had a lot of guys coming in the same age, and we experienced it together step by step. I got a sense of what the pros are like, and I enjoyed it. It was a good experience and we had some good fans.”

He wouldn’t be around for a run at the AHL’s Calder Cup, however. That’s because the Wild called up Coyle up to make his NHL debut on Feb. 4, 2013, when he wore jersey No. 63 in a 2-1 loss at Phoenix.

“It was a cool feeling, and something you work for your whole life,” said Coyle. “To get to that moment, to that first game and put on that sweater, it’s a dream come true.”

He admitted to having the expected anxiety for that first game, in which he recorded two shots on goal and a hit. His new teammates helped him calm his nerves.

“The guys were awesome,” he said. “They really made me welcome, and they took me in and made me feel comfortable. It was cool to meet them and play with them, and it was a very, very cool experience.”

There was no fairy-tale first game, first shot, first goal for Coyle against the Coyotes in his inaugural NHL outing, though, and he would actually have to wait until his sixth contest to collect his first point. Skating on a line with Kyle Brodziak and Pierre-Marc Bouchard in Calgary, he broke for the net and redirected Bouchard’s saucer pass from the left side past the left skate of Flames netminder Joey MacDonald.

“I didn’t really do anything,” laughed Coyle. “It was a nice play, and they set me up.”

The goal tied the game at 8:56 of the first period, and although the Flames came back to take a 3-1 decision, Coyle was still tabbed as third star of the game.

“He never really has any ebbs and flows in his game, even in the NHL,” said Harlow. “He plays really sound, consistent hockey that they want in the NHL, and that’s kind of how he is as a person. He doesn’t get too excited, and he comes from a great family, and parents (Chuck and Theresa) who did a great job bringing him up.”

Coyle missed some time early on in his second season with knee troubles but cemented his spot in the Wild lineup come November. He also switched to his old No. 3 jersey, the same number he wore during his high school, junior, college and minor-league stints.

“They gave me number 63 in camp,” he said “Number 3 was the number my dad played with, and Tony was number 3 at BU. I always tried to get it, and my uncle said it was a lucky number.”

Coyle got a bit banged up in the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring, as the Wild fought back to oust the Colorado Avalanche in seven games in the opening round before succumbing to the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks in six contests. Along the way, he suffered separations to both shoulders and took a puck in the mouth, requiring stitches.

Just part of the aches and pains of being a professional hockey player.

“The way that our young kids performed, I’m very proud of them,” said Wild head coach Mike Yeo after the season ended with a 2-1 overtime loss to Chicago at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. “You’ve got guys that are getting needles to numb the pain. They’re battling through an incredible amount, so what you see out there is only scratching the surface of the way they’re paying the price, physically, mentally, emotionally.”

“The playoffs are awesome,” Coyle said. “The atmosphere is intense, and everyone revs up and fights for the chance to win the Cup. That makes it fun, and I was really excited.

“You make the playoffs, and you try to make a run,” he added. “Obviously you want to make it all the way — but we made some strides, and that’s huge going forward for us.”

“He just stays consistent,” said Harlow of Coyle. “He’s good in his own end, and in the offensive end in small areas. He’s really strong on the puck and makes good plays, and can play any kind of game you want to play.”

Another memorable experience came this past St. Patrick’s Day, when Coyle played his first NHL game at TD Garden against the Bruins. He had three shots on 22 shifts as the Wild fell to the home side, 4-1, in his pro homecoming.

“I only got two tickets,” he quipped of his game allotment. “When the schedule came out last summer, I got a text every day from someone who said they were coming to the game. It must have been a thousand to 2,000 people I knew there.”

He had played games at the Garden before, in both high school and college in front of family and friends — but never against his boyhood team.

“I still love ’em,” he laughed. “The Bruins were my favorite team growing up, and it was weird to play against them. It would have been better if we beat them, but it was a really cool experience and I enjoyed it.”

He headed back home to New England after the Wild were eliminated by the Blackhawks.

“I took a few weeks off to get healthy. I needed to do that and get my batteries recharged,” he said. “I’ll start hitting the gym again, and start skating in July.”

Coyle (middle) planned to be a pro hockey player from when he was a child. With Minnesota, that plan has come to fruition. (Photo/Getty Images)

Off the ice, Coyle has taken a liking to sushi (“I got into it a lot in the last year”) and has tried his hand at playing guitar (“It’s probably a lost cause, but I’m still trying”).

As summer rolled toward autumn, he planned on cranking up his preparation for the upcoming season. “You’ve got to start preparing for next year and putting in the work,” he admitted. “In August I should be going full tilt.”

He planned to skate this summer against some of his peers at the Foxboro Sports Center, the same rink where he played junior hockey. “There’s a couple of pro leagues,” said Coyle. “I’ll play with some good players — pro, college, maybe some high school. It’s a good mix of guys, and it’s pretty competitive.”

Coyle also has been noted for his spur-of-the moment, simple wave to a young Wild fan sitting near the glass in pregame warm-ups last season, a video that’s since gone viral.

“I’ve been in that position before as a young kid, where you look up to athletes,” said Coyle. “I didn’t know I was on camera, but it was cool. He was a cute kid, and his reaction was priceless.

“It was simple gesture to do something for someone,” he added. “It was a good lesson, and a little thing goes a long way and can mean a lot to people.”

Just part of his job — the job he always wanted.

“I never pictured myself doing anything else,” said Coyle. “I’ve wanted to do this since I was a little kid, and I’ve loved every minute of it. I want to play as long as I can, and to get paid to do something you love is special. You have to put in the work, but it’s paid off, and it’s a cool job to have.”

This article originally appeared in the August edition of the New England Hockey Journal. Click here to read the digital edition for free.