This story appeared in the Greater Boston edition of the December ESPN RISE Magazine.
Charlie Coyle is back where it all began.
Three years ago, Coyle was a 5-foot-6, 140-pound freshman on a Weymouth (Weymouth, Mass.) hockey team that made a surprising run to the Super 8 finals. After leaving for a two-year stint at Thayer Academy (Braintree, Mass.), he has returned to his old stomping grounds. But a lot has changed since he's been away.
For starters, Coyle has gone from a diminutive youngster hoping to make an impact to a hulking 6-foot-2, 207-pound senior forward considered one of the nation's top high school players. He's been deemed an "A" prospect by the NHL Central Scouting Service, meaning he has the potential to be selected in the first two rounds of June's NHL Draft. And he has committed to defending national champion Boston University.
Unfortunately for Weymouth, Coyle won't be playing for the varsity team this year. Instead, he's suiting up for the Foxboro-based South Shore Kings of the Eastern Junior Hockey League. The Kings are the same program that produced Matt Gilroy, who last year at BU won the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's top player and is now a rookie defenseman with the New York Rangers.
Coyle has received daily requests from his cousin Trevor King (a junior at Weymouth) as well as his friends to rejoin the hockey team. But he thinks it would be too much to balance with his already-packed schedule with the Kings. Though he won't be hitting the ice for the Wildcats, Coyle is just happy to be home. At Thayer, his schoolwork and hockey made it difficult to hang outside of school. Now he's going to Friday football games and chilling on the weekend with his friends.
"It's nice to be a part of Weymouth again," he says.
As a freshman, Coyle played a pivotal role during the Wildcats' postseason run. He started off by assisting on the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win over powerhouse Catholic Memorial. Then he potted the game-winner himself in a 3-2 win over Malden Catholic. Coyle entered the MC game with only one goal all season.
"Scoring that boosted my confidence," he says. "Having it be a game-winner made it that much better."
Coyle's hockey experience at Weymouth was short-lived, however, as he transferred to Thayer the following year to improve academically and athletically. He also reclassified as a freshman to get better acclimated to the school.
During his first year at Thayer, he picked up pointers from cousin Tony Amonte, then a part-time assistant coach with the Tigers. Amonte, who racked up 900 points in 15 NHL seasons and was elected to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame this past summer, could see Coyle's potential.
"Some guys have something," says Amonte. "You can't put your finger on any one thing, but you know he's a great player. He just has something that sets him apart from everyone he plays with and he's fun to watch."
Last year, Coyle committed to BU, where Amonte starred. He followed his pledge by tallying 20 goals and 28 assists on the season and being named Thayer's team MVP.
Coyle was a standout at Thayer thanks to his keen hockey sense and playmaking abilities. But Tigers head coach Larry Rooney was more impressed with the forward's work ethic and reliability.
"There are no inconsistencies in Charlie's game," says Rooney. "He gets better in every practice and every game. That's what made him a great leader for us last year. He was able to raise the bar in every practice and challenge guys to compete the way he competed. He was an exemplary player for the younger kids and older kids."
Coyle learned the importance of hard work at an early age from his parents, Chuck and Theresa, who taught him not to rely solely on his talent.
"It was easy with him," says Chuck. "He took our advice the first time and he did it."
Coyle vowed to work even harder when he didn't make the U.S. Under-17 Select team in 2008. The next year, he earned a spot on the Under-18 Select squad that traveled to Slovakia this past August for the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament, formerly known as the Junior World Cup. He made the most of his opportunity overseas while leading the U.S. to a fourth-place finish.
His highlight play of the tournament came in a 3-2 victory over Finland when he scored the game-winner on a penalty shot. Coyle earned the opportunity when he split the defense and was pulled down from behind. On the penalty shot he made a sick move, cutting from his backhand to his forehand so quickly it left the opposing goalie badly out of position and Coyle with an easy goal.
"It was special because I knew that everything was paying off from working hard all those years," he says.
Coyle decided to return to Weymouth and reclassify back as a senior this year because it allows him the opportunity to play for BU next season if the Terriers need him. If BU wants him to wait a year, he could play for the Indiana Ice, a United States Hockey League team that drafted him last year. Coyle decided to join the South Shore Kings to better prepare himself for the next level, and he responded by recording a whopping 27 points in his first 13 games with the team.
"He obviously makes the players on his line better," Kings coach Scott Harlow says. "He's so strong with the puck he can play any type of game you want."
Coyle practices and works out five days a week at the Kings' facility with an eye toward improving his stock for the NHL Draft.
"I've always dreamed of playing in the NHL," says Coyle. "Now that I know it could become a reality, I want to work that much harder."
And it's nice being back home to enjoy the ride.