If you feel like Charlie Coyle’s been donning a different uniform each time a new hockey season starts, you’re not exactly crazy.
Since his freshman year at Weymouth High, the 6-foot-2 forward has suited up for Thayer Academy, the EJHL’s South Shore Kings, Boston University, the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs and the AHL’s Houston Aeros. In the midst of all that, he was traded on draft night in 2011, a year after being selected by San Jose and just moments after purchasing plane tickets to the Sharks’ upcoming prospects camp.
As if that wasn’t enough of a whirlwind, he’s now playing on the top line for the Minnesota Wild, a team that caught fire in March and began the month of April tied atop the Western Conference’s Northwest Division.
“I was thinking of this the other day. I think in the last five years, I’ve played for six teams,” said Coyle. “I’m always on the move and jumping to a new team. It’s kind of fun to adjust to something new. It’s happened so fast. It seems like just the other day I was 12 years old out shooting pucks and working on my shot to get here one day. It feels like all the hard work has paid off and it’s finally here. It’s crazy how fast it’s come and that I’m living my dream right now in the NHL.”
The journey hasn’t been without its challenges. In December 2011, after much deliberation, Coyle (East Weymouth, Mass.) elected to leave Hockey East for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, shedding his role as a student-athlete and going somewhere he’d be able to strictly focus on hockey.
“Oh, gosh. It was ... ah, it was hard,” Coyle said of telling coach Jack Parker (Somerville, Mass.) he’d be leaving the team. “It was literally the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. BU was the only school I wanted to go to and the only one I looked at when I was looking at colleges. That’s where I wanted to be. But everyone has their own path. It was definitely hard to go in there and tell him that. It was something I thought I should do and I did it, and I think it worked out.”
As if the experience wasn’t agonizing enough, word of his departure got out before Coyle was able to break the news to his fellow Terriers.
“My roommate Adam Clendening was at the World Juniors with me. I wanted to tell him the whole time — he’s my roommate, my best friend there — and I just couldn’t. And then he’s hearing these little blurbs about me leaving. It was just a weird situation. Parker then went back and told everyone just to clarify everything, but I wanted to tell the whole team, face them myself and tell them myself, but that wasn’t in the cards, I guess.”
No matter how much confidence he had in thinking it was the right move, Coyle knew there was still the possibility that he’d struggle in the “Q.” Luckily that wasn’t in the cards either, as he led the Sea Dogs to the Memorial Cup, winning MVP of the QMJHL playoffs after racking up 34 points in 17 games.
“Yeah, that was nice, ’cause there’s always the chance I go up there and don’t produce,” said Coyle. “Then it’s like, ‘Oh, maybe I made the wrong decision. Maybe I should’ve stayed.’ I went out there and just felt good. I could focus 100 percent on hockey. We won our league, I played on a great team. It just all came together up there and I knew it was a great decision.”
After turning pro and playing well for the Wild’s farm team in Houston, Coyle earned a promotion to the big club and is skating on a line with star winger Zach Parise and center Mikko Koivu.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “It’s obviously something I’ve been working toward, getting to this stage. It’s nice to be up here in Minnesota. I’m fine just being up here. It’s just a little extra to be on that top line. It’s pretty cool to play with those guys, but I’m just happy to be able to play with this team.”
After being a young man on the move year after year, carving out a role with his current club and staying a while is just what Coyle hopes to do. Through 24 games, Coyle has four goals and three assists for seven points, with 11 penalty minutes and a plus-6 rating.
“I definitely want to stick up here in Minnesota,” said Coyle, who potted his first NHL goal a week before his 21st birthday. “Everyone wants to be in this league. I definitely want to earn a spot here, stay up here and try to help this team win — whatever role they put me in. We have a great group of guys. When we play our game and we’re on, I think this team can do a lot. I’m really excited to see what we can do.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.