When Charlie Coyle
made the midseason move from Boston University to the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he immediately improved a Saint John team that is already coming off a Memorial Cup-winning season. He might also be improving Minnesota’s chances of winning an even bigger Cup in the future.
Coyle’s transfer to the major junior ranks united him with fellow 19-year-old Wild prospect Zack Phillips
. Thus far they have played on the same line in all 12 of Coyle’s games as a Sea Dog, and they’ve already developed a chemistry that could be witnessed down the road in Minnesota.
Phillips, a three-year QMJHL veteran from nearby Fredericton, N.B., made a point of welcoming the Weymouth, Mass., native to the team. For Coyle’s first few days, Phillips took him everywhere, making sure the “new kid in town” got integrated into the group quickly.
“If I was coming to a different country and a completely different atmosphere, I’d want someone to kind of help me around,” says Phillips. “I just kind of took him wherever I went and made sure he met all the guys. It was pretty easy; he’s a good guy so everyone got along.”
In fact, Coyle got to meet his new teammates before he even got to his first practice.
“The first night I came, it was like the first half hour since I was there and I was already at the movies with the guys, just hanging out with them. It kind of broke the ice a little bit,” Coyle says. “That made it much easier because I knew someone and he kind of showed me around. It was good to have him [there].”
The Wild drafted Phillips 28th overall in 2011 with a pick they acquired from the San Jose Sharks along with Coyle just before the draft in the Brent Burns/Devin Setoguchi
The pair met at last summer’s development camp, and Phillips says he tried to plant some recruiting seeds with the six-foot-two, 207-pound power forward. Did Phillips’ sales pitch have an effect on Coyle’s decision to pursue hockey full-time?
“I thought I did, and then he got here and he told me it didn’t really help that much,” Phillips said with a laugh. “I tried, but I think at that time he wasn’t really open to any different options other than college. But I did what I could.”
Even if Phillips hasn’t shown much as a recruiter, he’s had plenty to do with Coyle’s on-ice success so far. While both can play center, Coyle has usually played on the right wing alongside Phillips, and the combination seems to be working. Through a dozen games, Coyle already has nine goals, one short of his total over a season and a half (53 games) with BU. He’s also added eight assists for 17 points and an average of 1.42 points per game.
“He’s a big power forward and he’s got good hands, so it’s good playing with him,” says Phillips. “He’s got a good shot and he’s easy to set up because he’s always in the right spot in front of the net. We work well together and hopefully we stay together.”
Phillips, Saint John’s leading scorer, has 12 points since Coyle’s arrival, and 71 in 50 games on the heels of a 95-point season for the Memorial Cup champions.
“Point-wise I think obviously we’re both doing pretty good and we’re winning so I think it’s working for everyone,” Coyle says. “He’s smart, he’s pretty crafty with the puck and he’s a good player to play with. I think we complement each other pretty good. Hopefully we stick together. I think we work well together.”
The team, after losing in Coyle’s debut, has rattled off an 11-game winning streak, the longest in the QMJHL this season. With the Sea Dogs sitting first overall, the chance to win a Memorial Cup as Canadian major junior champions is first and foremost on the players’ minds. A future together with the Wild, however, is a long-term goal they’ve certainly discussed.
“We’re focused on winning this year, but it’s definitely in the back of our minds,” admitted Phillips. “We’re going to be down there training over the summer, we’re going to be in development camp together and main camp together, so it’s going to be that much easier going through it with somebody you know.”
“We’ve mentioned it a little bit I think but we kind of want to stay focused on this year obviously, just enjoy the time here,” added Coyle. “But it could be pretty cool to keep going in our careers together towards Minnesota and play there one day together. It will be fun to see.”