OTTAWA, Ontario--When J.T. Compher got the call Wednesday afternoon that he was heading to Canada to join the Colorado Avalanche on its road trip, there was a mix of elation and anxiety.
All the hard work that the 21-year-old from the Chicago area had put in as a young kid and then at the U.S. National Team Development Program and the University of Michigan had led to this, his first professional call-up and soon his NHL debut.
"It was awesome. I was so excited," Compher said of his emotions when he first heard the news that he was joining the Avs. "A little nerves right away, but mostly excitement. Called both my parents, my mom and my dad, and gave my sisters a call. It was a special moment."
The left wing is expected to play in his first game with the Avalanche this evening as the club takes on the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre.
On the day of the NHL's Trade Deadline, it is not uncommon for clubs to make a bunch of call ups to fill spots on their roster that were vacated by traded players. Compher knew that if Colorado made any moves at the deadline that there could possibly be an opening for a player from the San Antonio Rampage to take.
Compher learned that player would be him after San Antonio's practice and while having lunch with teammate Chris Bigras, who made his NHL debut last season with the Avalanche.
The ensuing hours brought a little craziness, as he gathered a few belongings, his hockey gear, passport and headed to the airport en route to Ottawa.
"It's kind of been a whirlwind 24 hours," Compher said Thursday morning. "Getting here and meeting my family here. I'm just excited to play hockey. I'm trying to think about it as another hockey game and go out there and play the way I always have. Usually that is why they want you here. They see what you can bring, and that's the plan tonight."
Compher, who was drafted 35th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2013, is in his second year with the Avs organization after being acquired in a trade on June 26, 2015. As a junior last season, he captained the Michigan Wolverines and helped lead one of the most dominating offenses in the NCAA.
Paired with fellow forwards Kyle Conner and Tyler Motte, Compher recorded a career-high 63 points (16 goals and 47 assists) while the "CCM Line" registered over half of Michigan's goals (70 of the 136 tallies, 51.5 percent) from Dec. 4 until the end of the season.
After representing the United States at the World Championship in May, the Northbrook, Illinois, native signed with Colorado and began his pro career this season with the Rampage.
In 41 American Hockey League contests, Compher has recorded 13 goals and 17 assists and leads the team with 0.73 points per game. He ranks 24th among AHL rookies in scoring with 30 points, but he's played fewer outings than all but two players ahead of him on the list.
Compher credits the college game, where he would often face players between the ages of 18 to 25, in easing his transition to the professional ranks.
"I think it has helped a lot," Compher said of taking some of the experiences he had in the NCAA to the AHL. "My first half of the year has been very beneficial and taught me a lot about consistency and the strength and speed it takes to play at the pro level."
Compher marks Colorado's 17th recall from San Antonio this season, and he'll join A.J. Greer, Samuel Henley, Spencer Martin and Jeremy Smith as members of the Rampage that made their NHL debuts this season.
He's already received some messages from his former San Antonio teammates wishing him well.
"It has been really quick, but [Greer] shot me a nice text last night when he found out," Compher said. "Rocco [Grimaldi] did as well. A bunch of my teammates did. It was nice to have a lot of support from those guys, and I appreciate it a lot. They gave me a couple tips. Just be myself, play hard and try and make an impression."
If there is a common theme among those well wishes and tips from the Avs' coaches and players, it's to enjoy the moment. You only get one NHL debut.