- Allison Farrand/Daily
By Jeremy Summitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 28, 2014
Michigan coach Red Berenson knew JT Compher would make an immediate splash in the college hockey world. Meanwhile, Compher was just looking for his opportunity.
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“I predicted that he’d be the one freshman that would be an impact player,” Berenson said. “I thought he was the most ready.”
In the summer, Berenson told the freshman forward that he gives a fair chance to all players to earn a spot in the lineup, and that everyone starts fresh heading into a new season. Compher was grateful to be recognized by his coaching staff early on and applauds his teammates for helping him maintain his role as one of Michigan’s most dynamic players.
The freshman forward was named Big Ten First Star of the Week on Tuesday after a five-point weekend against Michigan State. The honor marks the second time this season — the first since Dec. 3 — that Compher was recognized with a Big Ten weekly award.
His performance last weekend featured a four-point outburst in Saturday’s series finale that included two goals and two assists in a 5-2 victory at Michigan State. Compher has scored nine goals and dished 11 assists on the season to lead the Wolverines in points and revive what had been a stagnant offensive unit before the series with the Spartans.
Compher has already been lauded with comparisons to former Michigan hockey greats. Berenson went as far as saying he’s one of the best centers the veteran has ever coached. That places Compher in good company with the likes of Kevin Porter, Brendan Morrison and Andrew Cogliano — all NHL standouts.
“I can’t tell you he’s going to be the best centerman we’ve ever had,” Berenson said. “But I can tell you, coming in, he has been more ready than most players.”
That he’s even in the discussion with the trio of players who centered some of the best teams in program history stands alone as a humbling compliment. Compher is just 18 years old and has the ability to score at will and lock down the top forwards in the country.
According to Berenson, his work ethic makes the biggest difference, and that became increasingly evident with his knack for scoring the goals that the coach refers to as “workmanlike.” Compher is scrappy in the corners and demanding in front of the net. It’s something he’s been working on since he arrived on campus, and it’s continued to reward him.
“I think that, from the start of the year, my scoring touch has gotten better,” Compher said. “Getting in the dirty areas, I’ve had a lot of rebound goals. Not a lot of pretty ones, kind of just getting to the net and getting in position.”
When Compher isn’t causing opposing defensemen havoc in those dirty areas, he becomes just as frustrating in his own defensive zone. Senior forward Derek DeBlois says Compher is one of the team’s best defensive forwards, and rightly so. His two-way abilities at center have proven to be pivotal for a team that’s still working to clean things up defensively.
Compher does things other players might be more reluctant to jump into. He’s sacrificing his body to block shots and stays physical in the corners as an undersized forward. Berenson might have known Compher would make some sort of impact, but the coveted freshman has simply been the team’s X-factor all season.
He’ll literally do anything for the team,” DeBlois said. “That speaks volumes about who he is and what kind of player he is.”
When Compher is rolling, the team feeds off his success. Compher posted a six-game point streak through November and December, while the Wolverines lost only one game in that span. As Compher goes, his line goes. And often times, his line has been the most productive of any Berenson has pieced together.
As Berenson predicted, the freshman from Northbrook, Ill. has made a name for himself in Ann Arbor. Now with 14 games to play in his inaugural campaign, he’s helped place his team in a position to make the program’s legacy glisten a little brighter.