By Carroll Rogers
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
DULUTH, Ga. – Everybody assumes minor league coaches live to make it to the majors. Not everybody knows Jeff Pyle.
The 47-year-old coach of the Gwinnett Gladiators loves hockey. He fell in love with the ice when he was 4 years old, the day his mother put skates on him, his brother and sisters, to put some fun into a traumatic time. Their father, who had met their mother while stationed with the Army in Austria, had just left. He was a heavy drinker.
Pyle was too young to notice much or care about that, but he did care about hockey. He couldn’t get enough of it. Growing up in suburban Minneapolis, he skated at a neighborhood park until his feet were frostbitten. He turned a green wall in their basement black with puck marks.
He became a standout player for Northern Michigan University. When his prospects in minor league hockey muddled, he went to Germany to play. He stayed 10 years. When Pyle’s back gave out on him after 13 years as a professional player, he stayed in Germany and became a coach. He loved that, too.
He’s been coaching in the ECHL for six years. He’s made the Kelly Cup playoffs five times, including the past two years with the Gladiators. Yes, Pyle would love to coach in the NHL. But he doesn’t need it. He learned that from his mother.
“I’ve had a great life,” said Pyle, who came only as close as a couple of camps to playing in the NHL. “I did everything I possibly could. Sometimes the door just doesn’t open.”
Sacrifice for the family
Margaret Pyle raised four children on a waitress’ income. She worked at a coffee shop in the Minneapolis airport. She took morning shifts, starting at 4:30, so she would be at home when the kids got home from school.
When Jeff, her youngest, was 8, $22 was a big day in tips. He knew exactly how big her day was because he was the one who opened her old green change purse, dumped the money out, counted it, stacked and rolled the coins.
The Pyles didn’t eat out much because of the expense, but it didn’t seem to matter. Margaret Pyle was such a good cook, friends were always requesting her spaghetti, apple strudel, or roast.
Every weekend she made sure the family did something together. She packed picnic lunches and took the kids on day trips. The day at the skating rink, she didn’t get any skates for herself. She watched from the car.
“She sacrificed everything for us,” Pyle said. “She was the ultimate team player.”