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Wild Locker Room Full of Frozen Friendships

Strong relationships emerge on, off ice

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers / Wild.com

This article appears in the January Issue of Wild Magazine.

Hockey players are a unique breed, many of which, move away from home at a young age to play at the highest levels offered for their age groups. Some may leave their country and play in junior leagues or in college. Others stay close to home to hone their skills. Most, at some point, are without their parents, friends and the comforts of home until they meet with and cultivate relationships with others who have made the same sacrifice.

It's these new relationships, born over time and strengthened through hardship, that help to sustain a hockey player through the toughest of times both on and off the ice.

The Minnesota Wild is a team filled with players who have found comfort playing in the State of Hockey. Many have played here for multiple seasons, creating new friendships with a multitude of players on the roster.

Some friendships are closer than others. Others are full-blown hockey bromances. And the Wild have several.

Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle first met (according to Coyle) in a U-16 Evaluation Camp when the former chased down the latter and gave him a two-hand slash to the back of the legs.

 They didn't know it at the time, but they would go on to be roommates one day.

Speaking of roommates, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau and assistant coach John Anderson both came up through the Toronto Maple Leafs organization four decades ago. They, along with another teammate, lived together at one point, cementing a four-decade bond.

Defensemen Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella came to the Wild from two very different paths but have forged a companionship that has flourished both on and off the ice.


'I hate this guy'

Coyle and Zucker, each 16-year old standouts nearly a decade ago, first crossed paths at a Select 16 Festival in Rochester, New York.

Coyle, a rangy right-handed centerman from Boston, and Zucker, a speedy winger from Las Vegas, didn't have much in common.

According to Coyle, while at the camp in 2008, they crossed paths for the first time in a battle drill.

Coyle appeared primed to win a race to a loose puck when he was greeted by a stiff whack to the back of the legs, courtesy of Zucker.
 
"I looked back, and this guy was mouthing off to me," Coyle said. "I'm like, 'What the heck just happened?' He skates away and I looked at the back of the name plate. It said, 'Zucker,' and I was like, 'I hate this guy.'
 
"He doesn't remember it and he'll say it didn't happen. But that's the one thing I remember from that camp."

"He saw my name, but I didn't meet him," Zucker said, shaking his head.

The two would eventually go on to play together at several camps and two United States World Junior teams before meeting again shortly after Coyle, a first-round selection of the San Jose Sharks in the 2010 NHL Draft, was traded to the Wild in the Brent Burns deal.

A couple of weeks later, Coyle and Zucker were together at Wild Development Camp. They weren't friends yet, but they knew of each other, and that was the foundation of their friendship.

They quickly built on that, rooming together while in the minors and eventually living together when both reached the NHL.

"Going through your first pro season together, it's nice to have someone who is going through the same things you are," Coyle said. "He's an easy-going guy. So it was an easy friendship."

Zucker and Coyle developed a roommate relationship that only two professional athletes could have: The two were always competing.

"We got a ping-pong table our first year. We had dart boards, just a bunch of games. We went to the arcade at the mall our first year," Coyle said. "Always competing but always fun."

Despite the constant competition, living under the same roof is ultimately what turned their friendship into what it is today: Perhaps the Wild's best known bromance.

"Once we lived together, our friendship really grew a lot more," Zucker said. "We were friends before that, but we weren't as close as now."

It was a friendship that turned into a sort of quasi-sibling relationship. Zucker, who has three brothers and Coyle, who has two sisters each had their own siblings back home.

Coyle, the youngest of the three, said he had always wanted a younger brother when he was growing up. In Zucker, he found that.

"I was always hoping for a younger brother, someone that I could beat up on and just have that brotherly bond. Living with Jason was kind of like that," Coyle said. "Not that I beat him up all the time. It was something I never really had. I had cousins growing up, but I didn't live with them. It was special to have for a few years."

In the spirit of brotherhood, Coyle said enjoyed messing with Zucker, "who is so OCD."

"Everything he does. We would go grocery shopping and I would put the stuff away pretty nicely. Then he'll go into the cabinet and just shake his head, moving labels out," Coyle said. "You'd go into his room and everything is perfect. Every thing is so in order and perfect, I could go on and on. Not a bad thing, but sometimes I like to mess with him, if he leaves something, I'll go mess it up so when he comes back to it, he's all screwed up."

Over the summer, when Zucker got married, it was Coyle standing just behind him at the altar with his best man. Coyle chuckled thinking about the speech he gave at the reception after, which harkened back to the slash that started it all.

"I said, 'Never in a million years did I think I would be the best man at his wedding. I hated him,'" Coyle said. "But it's crazy how things work out."
 

Much different paths

Scandella and Spurgeon are two of the longest tenured players on the Wild roster, but each took very different routes to reach Minnesota.

Spurgeon, at 5-foot-9 and 164 pounds, was a sixth-round draft pick of the New York Islanders in the 2008 NHL Draft, but never signed with the club and was available to all 30 teams in the League.

Scandella, 6-foot-3 and 208 pounds, was a second-round selection of the Wild in the same draft and immediately became one of Minnesota's prized prospects.

Despite their very different resumes, the two became fast friends when Spurgeon came to the team's prospect camp in July 2010 as an invitee. While Scandella was on the fast track -- he would make his NHL debut later that season-nothing was guaranteed for Spurgeon.

"I just remember seeing him and thinking, 'Who is this guy?'" Scandella said. "He turned out to be a really good guy."

After development camp, the two were defensive partners in the Traverse City Prospect Tournament-which the Wild won. Scandella and Spurgeon were particularly good, and a few days after the tournament, the Wild signed Spurgeon to a three-year, two-way contract that paid him the veteran minimum.

"Best decision we've ever made as an organization," Scandella said. "He's become such a great player and he's a great person. I'm really happy to be his friend."

The two went on to be partners for the Wild's American Hockey League affiliate -- Houston, at the time -- and both got their first call to the NHL within a couple months of Opening Night.

Even now, the two would seem to have little in common.

Spurgeon is the family man who has settled down with a wife and two children. Scandella still loves to race cars, a passion he's had since he was much younger.

But its their openness and honesty -- two traits Spurgeon says they have always had with one another -- that allows them to maintain their tight friendship even as their years as inseparable roommates vanishes further and further into the rear-view mirror.

"We still sit beside each other on the plane, so we're always talking on those long flights," Spurgeon said. "We're always talking about movies and Scandy still comes over, whether it's for Christmas or dinners."

Even with all they have different, Scandella said there is one thing that has motivated them both since the very beginning.

"Nothing is ever guaranteed. We were just two guys on the outside looking in and it's just really great to have made it and made it with my friend," Scandella said. "We're living the dream right now."


 'Not a goof'

For hockey lifers like Boudreau and Anderson, it's a little surprising that this season is the first time they have gotten the opportunity to share the bench since they were players in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization three decades ago.
It's been 40 years since the best friends met after Anderson got the call up from Markham, a Junior B team in the Toronto area. Boudreau played for the Junior A club at the time. Both were from Toronto but their paths had never crossed.

"This long-haired, red-headed kid came in and he could really skate," Boudreau said. "Things went well, and the next year he was on the team."

Boudreau and Anderson remained together for the next several years, playing for the Toronto Marlboros, the Marlies and then Maple Leafs. Anderson had the more accomplished NHL career, scoring 631 points in 814 games, but the two remained tight.

For a few years, Anderson and Boudreau, along with another teammate, Stuart Burnie, lived together. Burnie and Anderson would debate topics about anything and everything, all while Boudreau would sit, listen and often laugh.

"We would debate anything," Anderson said.

"Just debate, not argue," Boudreau added. "I don't think we ever had an argument or anything. Just a lot of fun, a lot of stupidity. But it was good."

Both got into coaching around the same time, with Boudreau's career behind the bench beginning in 1990, one year before Anderson's. Each started in the lower levels of the minor leagues, working around the country, before eventually landing in the American Hockey League.

Anderson got his first crack at an NHL head coaching gig in 2008 when he guided the Atlanta Thrashers. Boudreau was picked as coach of the Capitals midseason the year before, pitting them against each other in the old Southeast Division.

Neither Anderson or Boudreau has changed much over the years. Boudreau is still the outgoing "Gabby" he was four decades ago when he broke into professional hockey with the team he idolized as a kid.

Anderson is still the quiet, reserved hockey man.

"I get attracted to quiet guys who know a lot about hockey," Boudreau said. "He was not a goof, he was a good guy and you want to hang out with good guys."

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