When Minnesota Wild forward Charlie Coyle
isn’t playing the way he’s supposed to, he knows he’s going to hear it from his coach.
That coach? His dad, Chuck, sitting on his couch back home in East Weymouth, Mass.
"He was my coach every team I played for up until high school," Coyle said. "Even now, he’s still my coach. I talk to him after every game. He likes to keep his distance and let me do my thing, but he likes to pitch in and I like it when he does. He knows the game, he watches every game and he sees what I’m doing out there. He helps me a lot."
When Coyle is at his best, he plays a grinding, physical style that suits his 6-foot-3 frame. That’s not to say he isn’t skilled. His goal on Jan. 27 against the Edmonton Oilers, when he raced down the left wall, around a defenseman and past the goaltender, only to reach back and tuck it inside the post from behind the net is one of the impressive goals scored all season.
But it all starts with physicality. If he’s using his body, the rest seems to fall into place.
"For some reason, when I do that, I just get engaged in the game," Coyle said. "Everything picks up after that."
For a stretch of games in December and January, Coyle wasn’t playing as well as he could. He told himself what he needed to do, a suggestion that was reinforced by Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo.
But it didn’t hit home until he got a message from his dad during the All-Star break: Get back to a physical brand of hockey.
"Our coaches here are great, they stay on us," Coyle said. "But it’s nice to have someone on the outside who watches the game from a different point of view, who knows my game, has watched me grow and knows what’s the best way for me to get into a game.
"He’s a tough critic on me, but that’s what I need. He’s always been like that and that is what has gotten me from level to level of hockey."
Coyle’s highlight-reel goal against the Oilers was the first game after the break. He was as impactful in that game as he had been all season and hasn’t looked back.
It’s helped that Coyle found a home as Minnesota’s third-line center. Through the first two seasons of his career, Coyle bounced around the lineup, mostly as a right wing. If an injury occurred down the middle, he’d move over and fill a spot temporarily.
That’s how his season began, until Yeo moved Coyle to center for good before Christmas. For several weeks, the lineup shuffled around him. Finally, in early March, Coyle was paired with left wing Thomas Vanek, a relationship has been mutually beneficial.
"I think it’s been good for everybody, no doubt about it," Yeo said. "For him, I think it’s been a little easier for him to prepare as far as who he’s playing with, what position he’s playing and what he needs to do."
Together with Vanek and Justin Fontaine, Coyle has helped provide the Wild with another consistent scoring line beyond the top six, something that will be important once the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin.
"The matchups are so strong; your top lines are going against top lines and the best defensemen," Yeo said. "Quite often, there is a cancellation between those and you see a third or a fourth line make a difference. These are the things that can take you over the edge and we think we have that ability."
The Wild think they have the guy to lead that charge.
"Finishing checks, winning his 1-on-1 battles, winning races for loose pucks, using speed through the neutral zone. There’s a puck-strength, a very difficult-to-defend type of player," Yeo said. "When [Charlie's] at his best, he’s playing playoff-type hockey."