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Freeze Frame: Coyle's Bottom In Top Form

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

In a game where every inch is so vital, where space is a luxury earned, not granted, it's a constant battle to create space. 

And sometimes, the root of that real estate can be reserved with one's rump.

Yes, we're talking about butts.

The hockey butt is a bumper-concept that, for years, has afforded players more space by simply boxing out with their bottoms.

For Charlie Coyle, the fanny is a means by which to free up space for the 6-foot-3, power forward.

"Any athletic stance, your knees are bent, your butt is out, and I'm a bigger guy," Coyle said. "I just try to use (my butt) to my advantage."

It's a concept analogous to boxing out for a rebound in basketball. The lower your center of gravity, the harder it is to uproot or circumvent you from a position.

Coyle didn't play much basketball growing up, except with his two sisters, Jessica and Jillian in his driveway in Weymouth, Mass.

"My dad would come out, and we'd play a little two-on-two or something, just for fun," Coyle said. "My dad, he was my coach all the way up until high school, and so he'd always teach me to use my body, and use my butt, and create space."

Now in his fourth season pro, Coyle is beginning to realize the limits, or lack thereof, when it comes to the kind of space he can create with his frame.

More specifically, he's learning that his butt can buttress the free ice around the crease to lead to Grade-A scoring chances.

"A lot of it is probably trial and error," Wild assistant coach Andrew Brunette said. "He's been in the league a few years now, he's got some experience, he's figuring out how to use leverage a little bit differently, and how to box out using the lower half of his body.


"He was always really good at it, but now he's starting to become elite at it."

Brunette himself was known during his playing days as a real pain in the butt to separate from the puck. Though he said he and Coyle are different players, he also said the generational gap creates a different learning curve.

"I had to use that to survive in an outdoor rink," Brunette said. "When you're five, to six, seven, eight, nine years old, if you wanted the puck, or wanted the ball when there was 30 kids on a contained space, you better be good at using your body."

Now when it clicks for Coyle, he can use his rear-end to reorganize defensemen, and put himself in prime scoring positions.

"That's one advantage that bigger guys have," Zach Parise said. "It's tough to knock him away from the net, or tougher to knock him on the puck. He's figuring out how to use that to his advantage."

On this goal against the Florida Panthers, Coyle boxes out defenseman Aaron Ekblad using his backside, and gives Parise a target for a tap-in goal.

As the play begins, Coyle is in the high slot, but starts to work his way toward the crease. He bounces off Dmitry Kulikov, using his lower half to maintain his balance.

From there, Coyle works his way into the blue paint. When he and Ekblad meet, Coyle not only gets lower than the 6-foot-4 defender, but also protrudes his butt, creating further separation between his stick and the defenseman.

"The more you stick it out, the more room you have," Coyle said.

By the time Parise picks his head up and spots Coyle in front, he has a clean passing lane, with Coyle establishing inside body position, and anchoring himself to the spot.

"I just tell him to angle his stick toward the net, and I'll find it," Parise said.

While on those plays it's noticeable how Coyle's size can influence a sequence, there are subtleties to what he does that can affect spacing, and create for his teammates.

When Ryan Suter scored against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday, Coyle did not register a point on the play, but did help create a path for his teammate to the goal.

Similarly to the Florida goal, Parise has the puck along the wall, and Coyle is working his way toward the net. He's able to swim to the inside of Carl Gunarsson, again using his butt to create space. 



As Coyle gets to his spot, he forces Gunarsson to try to work inside of him. This does two things: It opens up a lane for Parise should he want to move the puck toward the goal, but also creates space adjacent to Coyle for Suter, giving Parise another option.

Suter is able to sneak behind two Blues skaters, and with Coyle's stump stumping Gunarsson, it frees an area down low for Suter to skate into. 


Another area both Brunette and Parise identified Coyle using his body effectively in was the corners.

The net-front is a space no offensive player can go to without getting physically engaged. What Coyle can do so well, they said, is attack areas like the corners where 50-50 pucks can be won, win possession, and make a play.

"Not just in front of the net, but in the corners, being able to fend off guys when we're getting out-numbered, and protect the puck a little bit," Parise said. "He's understanding now that he's probably stronger than 90 percent of the people on the ice, and he's getting to those good spots."

On this goal against the Edmonton Oilers, Coyle not only works the puck out from the corner, but then also gets body position by using his butt.

Coyle and Anton Lander are both at the edge of the faceoff circle, with a footrace to determine who will get body position on the side of the crease.

Though both players arrive at the spot at the same time, Coyle, three inches taller than Lander, gets lower and pops his butt to fence out the defenseman, and create a target.

As the puck makes its way across the crease, Lander has to try to work through Coyle's body, made more difficult by the fact Coyle extended the separation by using both his butt and his wingspan.

"That's what boxing out, getting to the front of the net, and — if I'm standing up straight, this guy who's right here, he's right behind me, if I stick (my butt) out, he's going to be that far back," Coyle said. "Those couple of inches, or that foot, is going to make the difference."



***

As Coyle sat in his locker stall in First Niagara Center, talking about his butt, he began to act out how one of these sequences may play out near the crease.

"You're more stable when you bend over," Coyle said, jumping to his feet.

"This is the most powerful position, like this," he said, crouching into an athletic stance, ready for contact that wouldn't be initiated. "If I was to be standing like this (straightens his back), and you pushed me, I'd fall over. But if I'm like this (crouches back over), you wouldn't be able to move me. Core-activated, and all that."

Coyle just turned 24 last week. He played in his 200th NHL game on Halloween. He's one of the young faces in the Wild's locker room looking to make that leap to the next phase in his career.

His team-leading 21 goals haven’t hurt, and neither has his continued success at meshing the physical and mental components of his game.

"What I really like about him is he's starting to scan, he's seeing the ice a bit differently, so he's not just using his body real well, but he has an idea of what he's going to do out of that position," Brunette said. "'I have some time and space, now what am I going to do with it?'"

Growing up, Coyle said he never thought about how those two-on-two games in his driveway might have benefited his ability to play his position in hockey. At 6-foot-3, he never had aspirations of being a power forward in basketball.

His hockey-playing friends were able to empathize with the extra cushion he carried, everyone else, not so much.

"You do so much stuff. Lunges, squats, there's a whole bunch of stuff, but those are the big main ones that everyone knows," Coyle said. "But that's what hockey player's use. They use those muscles, so their butts are usually bigger, I guess.

"I don't know, maybe I should use some bigger pants to add some more space, but then I'm going to be slower."

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