SHAWINIGAN, Que. – By his own admission, Charlie Coyle doesn't consider himself much of a thrill-seeker. He's rather low-key.
Most of his free time is either spent with hockey or preparing for hockey – these days, he does that as a member of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League-champion Saint John Sea Dogs. He leaves most of the crazy, daredevil-type stuff to his maternal grandmother, Mary Kelly.
"She went skydiving for her 80th birthday," said Coyle. "I wouldn't do it, but she's really something. I'm lucky to have someone like her in my life.
"She watches all our games, she can't wait to watch it on TV. She'd love to be here if that was possible, but she's just great – she's livin' life, going skydiving – she's awesome."
And while Coyle might enjoy more of a staid lifestyle off the ice, there could be no one more dangerous with the puck in the Sea Dogs lineup. Mary Kelly's grandson provides thrills for hockey fans in Saint John.
"It was huge for us, he's a great player," said Sea Dogs teammate Tomas Jurco, referring to general manager Mike Kelly's acquisition of Coyle after the world junior hockey championship in January. "He fits perfectly in our lineup, he's one who can win all those battles. He's big, strong and he's got great skills."
Since joining the Sea Dogs after his stint with Team USA at the world juniors, Coyle has cut a swath through the QMJHL averaging more than a point per game with 15 goals and 23 assists in 23 regular-season games. In the post-season he went even further, becoming the first American-born player to win the league's playoff MVP honours with 34 points – 15 goals and 19 assists – in only 17 games en route to a President's Cup title.
[Slideshow: 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup: Saint John Sea Dogs ]
"Our whole team in general just clicked," said Coyle, of the Sea Dogs' dominant run to their second straight Q crown. "Pucks just happened to go in for me and my linemates as well. We'll take it as long as our team's winning – which we did – if I get points, great, but the team winning that's the main thing."
The Sea Dogs begin their Memorial Cup title defence on Saturday when they play the Ontario Hockey League-champion London Knights. The Quebec champions are figured to be the tournament favourites after Coyle decided to leave school at Boston University 16 games into his sophomore season. It's strange how things worked out since Coyle, a Minnesota Wild prospect, had been at camp during the summer with Sea Dogs forward Zack Phillips, the NHL team's first-round pick in 2011.
Having already committed to BU, Coyle was just trying to be polite and friendly when Phillips started his sales pitch about how great it would be to play in Saint John.
"That was the first time I met him and I had no interest in coming," said the 6-foot-2, 207-pound forward, who was initially drafted in the first round by the San Jose Sharks before being dealt in June 2011 along with Devon Setoguchi to Minnesota in exchange for defenseman Brent Burns. "I just didn't know anything about it, but he was just, ‘Oh you should come, we have a great team. We just won the Memorial Cup, we're going to go for another run next year.' I was just like, ‘Oh yeah, yeah, OK, whatever.'
"It kind of went in through one ear and out the other – I think he could tell, too."
It was ironic then, that when he eventually came to Saint John, the pair ended up on the same line together.
"I guess I have to give him some credit for that," said Coyle.
Coyle was so popular during the Dogs playoff run, that fans in Saint John – particularly on Twitter – have taken to calling him Sir Charles, likely in reference to the fact his name appears on the official QMJHL site as the very formal Charles Coyle. He said he didn't have a nickname while he was attending Boston University and that no one's really given him a moniker before.
"I think this is the first one, Sir Charles," said Coyle. "I guess we'll stick with that one... some of the guys call me Chuck here, so that's a little easier to get used to, but that's my dad's name. People call my dad Chuck, so that was weird to me at first."
He said the easy-going nature of the team and the friendly community in Saint John made for an easier transition, especially considering this group had already been through a successful Memorial Cup journey.
"That was one of the things when I was deciding to come here," said Coyle. "It was a whole different environment and they already kind of had their team, so I was a little nervous about that. But all the guys are great and I think I fit in perfectly, everyone was very welcoming."
But not everyone was thrilled with the move. Jack Parker, the legendary BU head coach, was none too pleased to have one of his young, highly-touted stars leave his program for the Canadian Hockey League.
"The quality of play can be shown by somebody that you see come here and barely gets a point and then he goes up there and gets 20," Parker told The Boston Hockey Blog in March. "It's a lot easier and it's not as good a competition. Charlie was an 18-year-old as a freshman and a 19-year-old here and playing 22, 23, 24 and sometimes 25-year-olds. Now he is a 19-year-old playing against 17-year-olds. There is no way that's as good for him. But it looks better on his stat sheet."
In March, Coyle signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Wild. That contract would have made the Weymouth, Mass., native ineligible to play in the NCAA.
"I think I understand him," said Coyle of Parker's remarks. "It was the hardest decision I've ever had to make to leave my friends, my teammates halfway through the year. It was time for a change for me and everyone has their own path to get where they want to be and this was the path I had to take. I think it's worked out for me."
Sea Dogs head coach Gerard Gallant said the fact that the Wild had been looking to sign Coyle had precipitated their discussions with the talented forward.
"He was going to turn pro next year," said the former NHLer. "So it all worked out. He knew he was going to play a lot more games here than he would have with Boston University in the second half of the season."
Still, even with the prospect of a pro deal on the horizon, Coyle said leaving school was also tough because it was so close to his home.
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"I've never really been away from home."At college I was 25 minutes away from home living in a dorm. I could go home whenever I wanted.''
It was so close that he'd still find time to take his laundry home for his mother, Theresa, to do on the weekends.
"That's basically what I did," said Coyle with a laugh. "So this is really my first time away from home, but I landed with a really good billet family. I was lucky."
It was a big deal because the Coyles are a tight bunch – mom Theresa, dad Chuck, and older sisters Jessica and Jillian – especially when it comes to hockey. His dad Chuck, played junior hockey. His uncle Bob Coyle, played in the QMJHL with the Hull Olympiques. His agent, Glen Giovanucci, is a cousin on his father's side as are former NHLers Tony Amonte and Bobby Sheehan.
"It's nice to have all these guys around if I need to ask questions," said Coyle.
As a kid when he needed someone to play goalie at the end of the driveway, he'd rely on family for that, too.
"I used to throw Jillian in net for street hockey," said Coyle. "She'd suit right up and I'd shoot on her."
And if he ever needs to channel his adventurous side, he need look no further than sky-diving grandmother to find inspiration.
"Hey, you only live once, right?"