Keeping The Right Perspective
After standing out in training camp, Charlie Coyle's hot play came to a sudden halt as he suffered his first major injury
Charlie Coyle is not exempt from being told to clean his room.
Following his rookie season with the Wild last year, Coyle moved back to Boston, into the same home he’s shared with his family all his life. But as in any move, a mess unavoidably follows.
Unable to completely open the door to his childhood bedroom — he’ll admit, he wasn’t fully unpacked from the season in Minnesota — Coyle fielded reminders from his mother to keep his room tidy, like any other kid.
“At that time, not going to lie, I never unpacked all my stuff from Minnesota and I brought it back so it was all over the place,” Coyle said, defending himself. “No seriously, I usually keep it nice and neat. I really can’t stand it when it’s messy.”
Like other 21-year-olds who might be moving home for the summer, Coyle enjoyed all the freebies of staying with his parents — food, laundry, rent, etc. — and of course, more time with his family and friends. While he’d grown used to his independence in Minnesota, living with his parents for the summer was a simple choice.
Though, when “Becoming Wild” asked if he’d be willing to be featured in an episode, he wasn’t so sure. The idea of cameras following him around all day didn’t appeal to him at first.
“There’s not many times you can do that so might as well try it out and have some fun with it,” Coyle said. “And we did. My family and friends all got in it and had a good time.”
The day included the traditional “Becoming Wild” tour of the house and town, visiting a few cool places along the way, and a workout. Watching a workout has become a standard part of the show, but Coyle’s summer workouts took on an entirely different meaning last year. With a taste of 37 NHL games with the Wild last year, he wanted to come back bigger, faster and stronger.
A Solid Start
After the shortened season provided just enough experience to help Coyle feel comfortable with the team, he entered Training Camp 2013 feeling confident and ready for the next step.
Coyle quickly stood out as one of the strongest players through camp, even juggling a move from the wing to center. Through five preseason games played, the 21-year-old picked up three goals and an assist.
“When you put in work it pays off,” he said as camp came to a close. “I’m just trying to go by that and just play my game. I’m not overthinking things. But I’m definitely more confident, this just being my second year.”
His play was drawing a lot of attention. Even head coach Mike Yeo couldn’t resist lauding the East Weymouth, Mass., native’s effort, saying, “I can’t say anything negative about his camp,” but did add he didn’t want to heap too much praise on the youngster. As the season loomed closer, the main question was whether Coyle could keep riding his hot game into the season and avoid a sophomore slump.
Coyle wasn’t worried; if he was he certainly didn’t show it. The even-keeled kid knew he needed to keep his emotions in check and just play his game. Then he’d be fine.
A Change Of Plans
What awaited him in the second game of the season was impossible to predict.
During the second period of an Oct. 5 tilt with Anaheim, the forward took an awkward hit and left the game. Though he briefly walked down the tunnel back towards the bench, he turned around hitting the wall as he headed back towards the locker room. He suffered the first major injury of his hockey career, spraining his left knee. He missed four weeks of action, including 11 games.
“That was the worst,” Coyle said. “I felt really good coming in after the summer and putting in the work. I just felt like I was definitely a step up from last year so it was nice to go into the season with a running start. And it just halted with that injury.”
Yeo echoed Coyle’s sentiment.
“His injury was tough timing because he was playing such good hockey at the time,” Yeo said. “He was a guy you could argue was one of our top guys in the training camp — the way he was playing, the way he was handling the puck, the way he was competing — he had a very strong camp. And then to get hurt so early in the season was disappointing because he was proving he was ready for a breakout season, if you want to call it that.”
In the next days following the injury, Coyle found out how much time he’d miss and the extent of his recovery process — one he described simply as long.
Between physical therapy and individual workouts, he kept himself busy. Initially he wasn’t able to push off on his leg meaning he couldn’t skate for the first two to three weeks.
Unable to step on the ice, he watched games from the press box and saw the game in a whole new light. While he fell in line with a typical fan at times, cheering and questioning some on-ice decisions from time to time, he saw how much slower the game was in the stands.
“It’s such a different game when you’re actually playing,” Coyle said. “A lot of people don’t understand that. I definitely didn’t want to be up there. I wanted to be playing.”
A Positive Attitude
You see it all the time, some sort of release as frustration boils over. More often than not an innocent piece of equipment takes the brunt of the outburst; maybe a stick slammed against the boards or a glove chucked at a wall.
While Coyle struck the wall of the tunnel as he left the bench on Oct. 5, the frustration slowly ebbed and he focused on rehabbing his knee. Instead of wallowing in the untimely injury, he adopted a positive attitude.
“As long as you’ve got in your mind that you’re going to get healthy and you’re doing the right stuff to get there, I think it helps speed up the recovery process,” Coyle said. “That’s what I tried to do. I just told myself to stay positive.”
He even saw the timing of the injury as a positive, at the beginning of the season rather than going into playoffs or another key time of the year. But that attitude was tested when as Coyle returned to the ice. After rejoining practice, he eventually was cleared to play again.
With his return to the lineup slated for Nov. 1 against Montreal, Coyle faced his latest mental hurdle. He had to trust he was healthy enough to play.
“It’s on your mind a little bit because you don’t know really how it’s going to be,” he said. “You practice with it, but you’re not getting a lot of contact in practice. So it’s a different game when you’re actually playing. That was the hardest thing, to get in your mind and say, ‘Alright I’m good. I’m not hurt anymore.’”
Coyle found himself in a tough position. Any little tweak or ache made him question whether he could work through the soreness or if he was taking a step back. The forward looked shaken in the third period against the Canadiens, especially after taking a few hard hits. He sat on the end of the bench, continually stretching out his knee, trying to loosen it up and shake off any weird twinges.
After his return, he sat out a game as a precautionary measure, fighting a mental game more than anything else.
“Once I found out that my knee is pretty stable and I’m not going to really hurt it, if I feel that tweak, it’s something I can work through. That really helped me. Yeah it gets sore here and there, but it’s like anything.”
In an almost unofficial second return to the lineup, Coyle was moved back to the wing with Parise and Koivu, he had an immediate impact picking up an assist Nov. 5 against Calgary. Though, as expected, he didn’t return with the same prowess with which he entered the season.
“He’s shown already what an impact he can have on our lineup and how effective he can be,” Yeo said. “At the same time he’s not on top of his game and we’re going to have patience and work with him.”
He only had to wait two more days to register his first goal of the season; though it came way later than any one would have bet back in September.
“It’s nice to help contribute to the team,” Coyle said. “It’s always nice to get that first one out of the way because you’re not thinking about it or anything. You can just play now.”
And that’s the plan.