If USNTDP center JT Compher is trying to avoid the spotlight then he isn’t doing a very good job. The Northbrook, Ill. native has already done seemingly everything in his young career; been brought up to the US National Team Development Program’s illustrious U-18 team at the age of 16, won a gold medal at the 2012 IIHF Men’s World Under-18 Championship, committed to one of NCAA hockey’s most storied programs at the University of Michigan, and been named to NHL Central Scouting’s ‘A list’ of 2013 draft prospects.
Has the increase in notoriety fazed Compher? Hardly. He has found a way to stay grounded despite the extra attention. “I take that [being named to Central Scouting’s ‘A list’] as my hard work that I put in last year is being recognized, so why change anything now,” Compher said. “That’s just what I’m going to keep doing, keep working, and if people noticed before and I keep doing the same thing then I hope they’ll keep noticing. It’s really a fun game, I don’t feel much pressure.”
Compher will spend his first full season with the USA NTDP U-18 team in 2012-13 after splitting time between the U-17 and U-18 squads in 2011-12, all while ending the season with a gold medal win at the 2012 U-18 World Championships. “Being called up was an amazing honor for me and I know the work that team has put in the last two years to win that tournament [2012 U-18 World Championship]. Being a part of that was really special. Winning a gold medal….” Compher paused, contemplating his tournament experience. “There’s not many feelings like it, it’s pretty amazing.”
The self-described two way center hopes to log time in all situations for the NTDP in 2012-13, but would like to bring more than just his playmaking ability to the table this coming season.
Being from the Chicago area has given Compher an opportunity to watch Jonathan Toews play many times, and he has attempted to pattern his game after the Blackhawks center both on and off the ice. Much like Toews did when he broke into the NHL at the age of 19, Compher feels ready to step into a leadership role for the NTDP at a young age. “I was assistant captain for a couple of the tournaments during the year and we had a lot of leaders on our team, but I think that I could take some leadership and some responsibility having been to tournaments before.”
Though he has been to tournaments and won an Under-18 World Championship, that doesn’t mean that Compher has rested on his laurels over the offseason. He has been working out 4-5 days a week and skating a few times per week, taking only a two week break from skating to recharge his batteries.
All of the time and effort put in over the summer has been to help the U-18 club achieve its many goals in 2012-13. They would like to help the U-17 team make the USHL playoffs, while also playing well against strong NCAA competition in their exhibitions. However, the highest priority goal can only be achieved by completing something the program never has before; winning five consecutive U-18 gold medals. “The overall goal is definitely to win that tournament, the Under-18 Worlds. That’s the main goal.”
Regardless of what happens with the 2012-13 U-18 team, Compher will have a new arena to call “home” in 2013-14 just down the street from his current one. He has committed to play for the University of Michigan and legendary head coach Red Berenson. Compher’s decision to attend UM, and his decision to play in the NCAA as opposed to the CHL, was influenced by life away from hockey. “My Dad tells me all the time that hockey’s going to end one day, so make sure you can handle yourself in the real world,” Compher said. “Education was pretty much the main part, and I don’t see the rush of trying to get to the NHL or anything like that. Michigan will give me time to develop and hopefully win a National Championship.”
It appears as if Compher has as much common sense as he does hockey sense, and will attempt to utilize that to better himself in the classroom and on the ice over the next few phases of his already impressive career.