The first time Weymouth, Mass. native Charlie Coyle played hockey on Garden ice was in March of 2007, when he was a 5-foot-6, 140-pound local high school kid who helped Weymouth High to its first-ever finals appearance in the MIAA Super 8 Tournament.
Seven years, nine inches and 80 pounds later, Coyle returned to the Garden as a fully grown pro with 93 NHL games under his belt. Despite his familiarity with Garden ice, Coyle said his return to Boston as a pro will be an occasion to remember.
“I’ve played in this building before, Beanpots in college and my high school tournament here,” Coyle told reporters before Monday night’s game. “I used to always come here to watch the Bruins play so I guess that’s pretty special, but it’s nice to finally be here and be playing against them.”
Coyle has never won a game at the Garden – his Weymouth team lost to BC High that March, and he never won a Beanpot game during his year-plus at Boston University. On St. Patrick’s Day this March, his Garden losing streak continued when the Wild could not find a way to stop the red-hot Bruins, who earned a 4-1 win to stretch their win streak to nine games.
But Coyle, who recorded no points and minus-2 rating in the loss, played much better in his homecoming than the box score would indicate.
The 22-year-old attempted five shots in the game and put three of them on net. His best scoring chance came nine seconds into the game, as Coyle sped past Bruins defenseman Matt Bartkowski on the Wild entry into the offensive zone and got his stick on a loose puck. Coyle flipped it up toward the net from in close, but Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask deflected it back to the end boards to deny Coyle.
Coyle also set up linemate Mikko Koivu for a nice chance with the Wild trailing, 1-0, six minutes into the second period. Coyle controlled the puck behind the net before feeding it through traffic to Koivu, who was crashing the net. Despite a bid from in close, Koivu failed to find a way to beat Rask.
“We created a few chances, we just didn’t bury them,” Coyle said. “That could’ve changed the momentum of the game, from any point. We had a few chances early on too, so that would have been a good start.”
The missed opportunities have plagued Coyle throughout his sophomore NHL campaign. After posting 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 37 games last season, Coyle has slowed down with 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 56 games this year. He has just two points in his last 17 games.
Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said Coyle’s scoring issues are typical of a young player who focuses too heavily on results.
“I think that there’s been quite a bit of talk about point production. I think he’s focused on that right now and I think that’s affecting him a little bit,” Yeo said. “At the same time, we talked about this the other day, that it’s good for a young player to have to deal with that. To have to learn how to focus on the things that get you the results as opposed to those results and this is something we’re working with him on.”
And while Coyle still has a lot to learn as an NHL player, scores of friends and family from Weymouth were in attendance at the Garden Monday night to celebrate his first visit home of his NHL career. Most fans in Wild jerseys at the Garden had Coyle’s No. 3 on their backs, and signs for the hometown hero littered the stands. Coyle received a hefty cheer from the Boston crowd when he was announced as a starter, and he was named third star of the game. While Coyle was probably hoping for a different result on the scoreboard, he said he still enjoyed his brief return home.
“Obviously it’s nice to have the support of my family and friends, and just being back in Boston, so it was good,” Coyle said. “Obviously wanted a different result, but it’s always nice to come back.”