- Patrick Barron/Daily
By Jeremy Summitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 12, 2013
Evan Allen remembers his coach’s pregame speech before he and fellow Michigan freshman forward Tyler Motte’s Detroit Honeybaked squad lined up against Team Illinois a few years back. Their coach told them to watch out for a kid named JT Compher.
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“I remember coach saying they had a strong player, JT Compher,” Allen said. “He was the best player on the ice and really hard to play against.”
Honeybaked and Team Illinois are two of the most respected youth programs in the nation, raking in regional and national championships on an annual basis. From being old youth hockey rivals to lacing up their skates against Division I competition, Allen, Compher and Motte’s paths have frequently converged on and off the ice.
After many years as rivals, Allen, Motte and Compher joined forces as a part of the Michigan hockey team’s 2013 recruiting class. The trio has played on the same line for nearly a month, becoming the team’s second-most productive unit with 11 points in eight games.
Allen and Motte share a rich history as teammates during their emergence as top youth players in the Midwest Elite Hockey League. They met for the first time nearly seven years ago, and have both been playing against Compher for just as long.
“Chicago and Detroit obviously have three to four teams each (in the MEHL),” Motte said. “It was always a big rivalry, so we would see each other in big tournaments. We would see each other a lot in semifinals, so it’s been a great rivalry for a while.”
Just two years ago, the trio was selected to join the United States National Team Development Program with 20 other top players from around the country. It was there, through the program based in Ann Arbor, that the trio became a tight-knit group.
“They’re together at one high school from seven in the morning all the way until six at night every single day, so the bond between teammates was extremely tight,” said former U.S. NTDP coach Don Granato. “It was more of a best-friend type of relationship.”
Playing under Granato, Motte and Compher were often paired on the same line, developing plenty of chemistry along the way. Both Motte and Compher were highly regarded as superb two-way players with the ability to grind it out in the corners and shut down high-octane forwards.
“They could perform well at a high-skill game from a defensive standpoint and a grind-it-out game from a scoring standpoint,” Granato said.
Allen, on the other hand, has always possessed a different playing style than his two teammates. He’s had a knack for scoring ever since his days at Honeybaked, where he says he and Motte were typically the go-to guys.
Granato recalls constantly searching for more ways to get Allen in spots where he could shoot the puck. Allen netted 23 goals last season with the NTDP, where stats are often deflated with a demanding schedule against top collegiate and international programs.
Allen, Compher and Motte have hardly changed their ways since coming to Michigan, and that comes as no surprise to Granato and Michigan coach Red Berenson.
Allen continues to put pucks in the net, and Compher continues to be a scrapper in front of the crease and in the defensive corners. Motte is making his case as one of the top defensive forwards on the Wolverines’ roster and has sniped a couple goals early in the season.
“Tyler is a good two-way player, smart with the puck,” Berenson said. “The puck seems to find him and follow him around. Well, that’s because he’s in the right place at the right time. He’s always had a history of scoring. Defensively, he’s earning our trust, and that’s important.”
All three of Michigan’s standout freshmen agree they made the best decision by staying in Ann Arbor after their NTDP careers. Even before the trio teamed up on the national team, they discussed where their paths might cross next.
Roughly a year before joining the NTDP, Motte and Compher recall playing in a prospects tournament in Toronto where, at the time, they hardly knew each other and were paired on the same line. They scored a few points during the showcase event and decided to stay in touch afterwards.
“We had really good chemistry when we played in that tournament together,” Compher said. “It was kind of like, why don’t we keep that going, and then we ended up making the national program.”
Compher was the first to commit to Michigan, and then Allen joined conversations with Motte about coming. There was no reason to dismantle what was working, and the chemistry between the three has been a critical base for the Wolverines’ early success this season.
On the ice, they’re three of the most dynamic freshmen in the country. After practice and outside team meetings, the trio’s long-lasting friendship continues to prosper. When asked if the trio influenced each other’s decisions during the recruiting process, Motte said it certainly didn’t hurt.
There’s no telling how long their roads will remain connected after their Michigan careers.