Charlie Coyle has no regrets about leaving university in mid-season to try his hand at junior hockey.
The Minnesota Wild prospect from East Weymouth, Mass., gave an instant boost to the Saint John Sea Dogs’ chances of repeating as MasterCard Memorial Cup champion when he left Boston University in December.
The 6-foot-2, 207-pound forward put up 38 points in 23 regular-season games, then was named most valuable player of the playoffs with 34 points in 17 postseason games as the Sea Dogs rolled to a second straight Quebec Major Junior Hockey League title.
“He’s a good kid and he’s been an excellent player,” said Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant. “We knew what we were getting when we got him and he’s turned out to be a perfect fit for our club.”
Coyle said he wanted to turn pro next season and that he would get better prepared for that in junior than in finishing out his year at BU, which plays a shorter schedule.
“I wanted to leave the school experience behind and focus on hockey,” Coyle said as the Sea Dogs, who suffered a shock defeat to the London Knights in their tournament opener, prepared to face the Edmonton Oil Kings on Monday night. “I knew I made the right decision when I made it.”
The Sea Dogs were already strong with 15 players back from last year’s team, but adding Coyle gave them a top-six up front that was the envy of the league with Florida’s third-overall draft pick Jonathan Huberdeau, Danick Gauthier, Zach Phillips, Tomas Jurco and Stanislav Galiev. The club has 10 drafted players, the most among the four Memorial Cup participants.
The team had also added veteran goaltender Mathieu Corbeil and a top defenceman in Charles-Olivier Roussel to man the other point with star blue-liner Nathan Beaulieu.
“There were definitely some holes to fill after losing some key guys last season and Charlie fills part of that,” Beaulieu said. “He was playoff MVP, but there were things you don’t see like how physical he is.
“He’s a great penalty killer for us as well as playing on the power play.”
There were the usual protests when a player leaves university for the junior ranks, or when player shuns junior in favour of the scholastic route. In Coyle’s case, it was whispers that he was struggling with his studies.
That prompted his agents Glen Giovanucci and Bob Norton to send a statement to the Minneapolis Star Tribune that said: “Contrary to speculation, he did not flunk out of BU. He is leaving the world of being a student athlete to play hockey on a full-time basis and pursue his goal of becoming an NHL player.”
It was a blow to BU coach Jack Parker. A week earlier, centre Corey Trivino had been kicked off the Terriers after he was arrested for an alleged sexual assault at the university.
Patrick Roy’s Quebec Remparts made a play for Coyle, but he chose Saint John because he knew they were a top team and because he knew Phillips after they skated together at the Wild’s summer camp.
Coyle was drafted 28th overall by San Jose in 2010, but had his rights traded to Minnesota along with Devin Setoguchi and a first-round pick for defenceman Brent Burns. The Wild used the pick to select Phillips, also 28th overall.
“We tried to get him for a year and a half,” Gallant recalled. “We’d been talking to his agent.
“The perfect storm hit just before the world juniors [in December] The kid was going to be an NHL player and he was going to sign a contract and he felt the best thing to do was join the Sea Dogs, with some of our talented players. He knew Zach Phillips, so things fell into place for us.”
Coyle, who signed a three-year entry-level contract with Minnesota on March 3, said Saint John has given him what he wanted – lots of game action.
“It’s more like a pro schedule than in college, where you play one or two games on weekends,” he said. “Then there are playoffs where you play best-of-sevens and it’s a grind.
“We’re playing in May now, so that’s good to get used to.”