(Photo: Minnesota Wild)
Many hockey players say that hockey is a part of them; that it is in their blood. In Charlie Coyle’s case it is in his DNA. Coyle counts among his family tree, cousins Bobby Sheehan, who played for the Montreal Canadiens, and won a Stanley Cup with them, and Tony Amonte, who is ranked 11th in American players with 900 points throughout his career.
Even as a youngster, Coyle, who was drafted 28th overall during the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the San Jose Sharks, before being traded in the summer of 2011 to the Minnesota Wild, had hockey on his mind.
“I know everyone used to tell me that I didn’t do a whole lot when I was growing up,” Coyle shared. “I would always have a hockey stick in my hand.”
He likes to consider himself dedicated. Given that he forwent his dream of continuing to play with the Boston University Terriers in his sophomore year when he joined the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to increase his playing experience and more closely simulate the NHL schedule, his assessment is pretty accurate.
“It [leaving Boston University] was the toughest thing I every had to do. As far as making the decision, it was the hardest thing to do. I always dreamed of playing for Boston University and going to school there and playing hockey, so I never really thought I would ever play major junior,” he commented. “That was just never anything I thought of. I always grew up playing around Boston and I’m from that area so I always thought of BC and BU, the Beanpot and all that.”
Though he was 19 when he made this decision, with the advice of his agents and discussing it with his family, it was still difficult to move so far away from his family.
“It’s always a tough thing to leave and all that—leave your family and leave where you’re from, but I think in the end it worked out,” he discussed. “It was something I had to do even though it was a tough decision. It was something, I think, I could do and it got me ready to where I am now.”
Having spent his childhood and teenage years in and around Boston and attending college just 25 minutes from where his family lived—allowing him to go home on the weekends, making the move to travel to Saint John, New Brunswick certainly took him out of his comfort zone. He was thankful that he did not have to make such a decision at a younger age.
“It was different kind of just leaving everyone behind and go up there and go into a place where I wasn’t really sure what to expect and kind of like a spur of the moment thing too,” Coyle reminisced. “I knew, uh, they told me I’d be living with a billet family up there, you know, and I had no clue about them; what they were like.”
Though he didn’t know anything about his billet family, he still counts them as family today—making summer visits there and considering their children his little brothers and sisters. Perhaps it was his maturity that helped him to view the entire experience as nothing but a positive.
“It really worked out. You get to meet new people like that and make new connections and that’s the special part of it,” Coyle described. “I knew I was going to [leave] eventually, going to play for hockey. I’d be moving away, so it was kind of like a stepping stone for that I think.”
Coyle does marvel at those players who have to make that difficult decision to move away from home at a much earlier age. He talked about some of his friends who were moving away at the age of 16 or earlier to progress and ultimately reach their dream of playing in the NHL. It was clear that this was difficult for him to wrap his mind around.
“I was a little more mature; a little older, so it definitely made it easier just knowing that I was kind of one of the older guys. I think that kind of helped,” he said. “Also, we had a great team up there and those guys made me feel welcome and they’re a great group so that kind of helped make me feel comfortable.”
Once again—as with so many other hockey players—the team experience rings out loud and the camaraderie of that group mentality help cement the positives of what could have been a less than rewarding experience.
What’s Plan B?
Asking Coyle about how old he was when he made a conscious decision that his goal was to make it to the NHL results in some starts and stops in his response as he admits that he always struggles with this question. Eventually he pulls together an answer and starts talking with emotion.
“Ever since I played hockey, I think, I loved it. My dad obviously got me involved and a lot of my dad’s relatives—I have a few cousins who played in the NHL—so it’s just kind of in my family, the hockey thing,” he admits. “It’s just the only thing I wanted to do [and] I knew that involved playing in the NHL to try to make the best league in the world and to keep playing as long as I can.”
His mind set of working hard and hoping it would pay off served him well as he was growing up and he relies on that same approach even though he has made it to the NHL.
“People always ask me ‘What was your Plan B?’ or ‘What’s your Plan B?’” he shared. “I literally don’t have a Plan B. I just never thought of it like that. That’s all I ever wanted to do is play hockey. I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t [playing hockey], so I just put all my efforts into that and luckily it got me to where I am today.”
In short he has always had a passion for the sport and fortunately he has been blessed with a lot of talent. Perhaps more importantly though, he was blessed with parents who helped mold his thinking that in addition to talent, hard work must also be applied.
“My dad was my coach from when I first started hockey up until high school. He was harder on me than anyone else because he knew he could be and I was his son. I think that helped me a lot, but he always kept the game fun,” he said, his voice animated.
Like so many players who have come before him and those who will certainly come after, he relates countless stories about how his parents spent time helping him—the endless trips to the rinks for practice and games. The example they themselves set on what it means to work hard. And while some people unfortunately struggle to find good things to say about one parent, in Coyle’s case, his struggles were in not leaving out his mother or his father as he talked of how they have helped him.
“My mom is the best person I know and I think those characteristics that she has taught me go a long way in the hockey community with meeting new people, creating long friendships through hockey and just being a personable person.” Coyle shared with pride and affection for his mother.
Many parents are convinced that their children are oblivious to the efforts they put forth in not only raising their children but in ensuring they have food, lodging and lack for no essentials. And while Coyle may not have acknowledged it when he was younger, it really did not go unnoticed.
“They go out everyday and they go to work to provide for our family growing up, as they still do. Whether it was driving me to hockey or going to work and coming home late at night from work, we grew up watching that every day,” he said. “You don’t really think of it at the time, but now you look back and they did all that for us, for our family and so that hard work and all those qualities and sacrifice and dedication, we just see it first hand through my mom and dad all the time.”
Keeping It in the Family
Like all young boys playing hockey, Coyle idolized some of those who were playing in the NHL at the time of his childhood. Of course, in his case, he could idolize and pretend to be family.
“I think I always envisioned myself in my cousin Tony Amonte’s footsteps. When I was growing up he was playing in the NHL and I always looked up to him,” Coyle recounted. “I remember playing street hockey, you know, outside in front of my house, and pretending I was him—scoring goals, doing this, playing in the NHL. Just keeping it in the family, I guess.”
But it was his father who has perhaps left the biggest impact on Coyle and how he approaches not only every game, but also how he prepares for them.
“My dad would always say ‘Practice is much more important than a game. You know that’s how you prepare for the game; that’s what get’s you ready. So how you work in practice is how you are going to work in the game,’” Coyle related. “So he always used to tell me that so I always used to tell myself ‘Well, if that’s true then I have to be the hardest worker out in practice. I have to outwork all my teammates to do that.’”
Even though Coyle has been with the Minnesota Wild since he signed his entry-level contract in 2012, he still hears his father’s sage advice and applies it in his professional life. And it must be paying off, because the Wild signed Coyle in 2014 to a five-year contract extension.
As far as Coyle is concerned that approach doesn’t just apply to the game of hockey.
“Just when I was very young, I think I understood those qualities and hard work and how it pays off. My mom and dad used to put that in my head everyday with everything, not just hockey—schoolwork, all that,” he said. “He used to always tell me to keep a positive mind and that would obviously help me as well to not get discouraged. It’s like both [my parents] tell me the same things, but in a different way and they have an understanding of how things go and what to tell me and they tell me in their own way.”
Undoubtedly his parents must be proud of him as a hockey player but more importantly as a son. Though he admits to being a quiet guy as a kid, he has a great sense of humor, and shares stories at ease. The easiest word he found to describe himself as a boy though was dedicated. He recognizes there are times to see the humor in things, but for him that is definitely not when he is on the ice.
For Charlie Coyle hockey is a passion—a passion that gives him joy. He realizes though that it is the hard work and positive attitude that help him to continue to grow. It is a refreshing attitude to experience in this era of entitlement. While his parents probably are already aware; they have raised an amazing person whose approach to hockey is also his approach to life and will see him go far. Hockey in the DNA may help explain some of his talent, but his true skill comes from perseverance and his willingness to be the hardest worker at all times.