Friday, December 30, 2011

Why Coyle Didn't Play

"I wanted to give all I had... I got a few shifts at the end but it was too late."

That from USA forward Charlie Coyle after his team's 5-2 loss on Friday night which basically eliminated his nation from the 2012 WJC. Unfortunately for the top line player, he was stapled to the bench for most of the game and unable to contribute much to his club's effort.

The reason why follows...

Early in the third period, with Coyle positioned at the far right end of his bench, I Tweeted that "it's been a quiet game for Charlie Coyle... so far" as it was noticeable that the big center hadn't been involved in the game through the first two periods.

A listener, "Bruce", pointed out that Coyle appeared lethargic in his few appearances and also noticed that he was sitting at the end of the bench.

There had been no mention of an injury but it seemed inconceivable that coach Dean Blais would be benching one of his top players in a must-win situation. After the game I finally got confirmation of what the problem was when I asked the former BU Terrier directly.

Coyle told me that he'd been awake most of the night throwing up and that even prior to the game he was ill. The flu bug has made its way around the tournament; Canada's Michal Bournival missed the game against Denmark for the same reason but clearly this was a much different scenario for USA and Coyle.

"I'm not feeling 100% right now and that was the reason why coach decided not to play me," Coyle said in the post game interview area. I asked him to clarify if that was coach Blais' call or not, "Yeah. He knew I wasn't 100% so that's what he decided."

Midway through the third period I spied Coyle on the bench calling over one of the team's trainers. A moment later during a stoppage in play the trainer called to coach Blais who turned towards he and Coyle. Coyle said something and then moved from the end of the bench to the middle, apparently ready to get into the game.

At that point I still didn't know if Coyle's absence from the game was due to injury, illness or if he'd been benched. I Tweeted: "Coyle has to be hurt. I can't see USA benching one of their top guys right now and he hasn't seen the ice this period."

I asked Coyle if what I had seen played out the way I had thought, that he'd told the trainer and then the coach that he was ready to go; a "put me in coach" kind of moment.

"Yeah, I wanted to give all I had," he confirmed, "I got a few shifts at the end but it was too late."

Indeed, despite his team's desperate attempt to rally, Coyle didn't hit the ice until after Tomas Filippi had scored his second goal of the game putting the Czechs ahead 4-2.

My reaction on Twitter: "And NOW Coyle is on the ice????"

As we all know now, the game ended 5-2. I asked the new Saint John center how it felt sitting on the bench, ready to get on the ice but not getting the chance to try and contribute.

"It's a terrible feeling but it is what it is," Coyle managed to say.

During his post game scrum, coach Blais briefly mentioned that his top line center was ill.

"Charlie Coyle was sick, hopefully he'll be ready to play tomorrow," he said.

The scrum broke up but before he left the mixing area I was able to ask him about Coyle again.

"He was sick," Blais said again, "Flu, throwing up... diarrhea."

I asked about the midway point of the final period when Coyle stood up to let the coach know that he was ready to go again.

"Yeah but by then you can't go out," Blais suggested, "If you're going to [say you can play] you have to say right away. As soon as I took him out of the line up he's got to say 'hey bullshit, I'm ready to go!', you know?"

Admittedly, it's a tough spot for Blais to have been in at that stage of the game. Here he was trying to ice the players that were best able to get his team the goals they desperately needed. Was he to go with a player who was physically tired, weak and had barely played all game and not since at least the second period?

On one hand I can understand going with the healthy guys and the ones that had been playing well. On the other... desperate times call for desperate measures and Coyle, one of the team's best players, made it clear that he wanted to get into the game. Often it's at those difficult moments when star players show their worth.

Coyle didn't get the chance.

I can't say that it was a mistake by Blais - he's the coach and has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt with his impressive track record as a coach over many years - but right or wrong, I feel like Coyle was an option worth trying before that fourth goal.

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