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Compher making a name for himself at Michigan

by Bob Snow

Reference the name Joseph Taylor Compher on the campus at the University of Michigan and it's likely few eyebrows will rise.

Mention J.T. Compher, however, especially among the school's hockey community, and the name quickly is gaining momentum as one of the Wolverines' star players.

One of 10 freshmen and 12 NHL draftees on the 2013-14 roster, the 18-year-old from the Chicago suburb of Northbrook, Ill., was ranked No. 34 by NHL Central Scouting in its final ranking of North American skaters heading into the 2013 NHL Draft.

No surprise that the Buffalo Sabres tabbed Compher early in the second round, with the 35th pick.

"That was right around where I expected," Compher told "I had interviewed with them a couple of times as well as other teams. But I knew they were one of the teams interested in me and I'm happy to be with the organization."

A teenager in years only, Compher's budding hockey career already was mature beyond his age before draft day and his first shift at Michigan two week ago.

His play on the international stage and in two seasons at the United States National Team Development Program put Compher on many NHL radar screens.

There was no shortage of highlights over those two seasons.

In 2012 he helped the United States win the gold medal at the World Under-17 Hockey Championship. In 2012-13 he was second on the USNTDP under-18 team in scoring with 18 goals and 31 assists in 55 games, and went on to help the U.S. win the silver medal at the 2013 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, with his seven points in seven games tying him with Tyler Motte for the team scoring lead.

Compher and Motte now are linemates at Michigan, and each already has made a huge impact in the first four games of the young season.

"They talked about my intensity," Compher told about Buffalo's scouting feedback. "I wanted to be a two-way player who was tough to play against. They talked to me at the [summer] development camp and told me to keep my intensity up and be hard to play against every shift."

Last weekend the No. 5 Wolverines travelled to Durham, N.H., for a series against the ranked the University of New Hampshire.

On Friday Compher set up Motte on a nifty needle-threading pass across the slot for a power-play goal in a 1-1 final. The next night Compher again set up Motte, this time for the game-winner with 1:37 left in overtime, for a 3-2 win

After four games Michigan is 3-0-1 and Compher has five assists in four games.

"Didn't surprise me," Michigan coach Red Berenson said of Compher and Motte after the Friday finish. "They are good young players and played here before with the [USNTDP]."

Before Michigan's first game, a 3-1 defeat of Boston College in which Compher assisted on the game's first goal, Berenson said, "I expect some of them will be impact players and we're going to need them to be."

Compher has been all of that.

"Michigan has that tradition and education along with the new Big Ten [Hockey League]," Compher said about his decision to remain in Ann Arbor, where the USNTDP also is based. "And having coach Berenson here was a huge factor. He knows how to turn people into NHL players and win national championships. I've only been here a short time, but the message is play with intensity and within the system but we can still make plays and play hockey without things like the traps."

Berenson's mantra for his freshmen is, "You were all brought here for a special reason. Don't try to do too much, but don't be afraid to make plays. You're here for a reason, so play that way with confidence. Keep improving so we can keep winning games."

No shortage of confidence in Compher's focus for improving within those parameters.

"I always liked playing defense, but scoring became a focus," he said. "Making sure I got shots on net and was producing. I really wanted to be an offensive player. I wanted to be one of the guys that was counted on to score."

Compher was a plus-player in his two seasons with the USNTDP and his plus/minus number has remained on the positive side so far at Michigan, with a plus-1 in four games.

"I've always been a two-way guy," Compher said. "I want to make sure my defensive abilities are taking time and space away from the opponent and frustrating their skill guys. But like I've said, I want to be an offensive player by bearing down and getting more shots on net and taking opportunities when they are there will help me produce more offense."

How does NCAA play compare so far to his previous stops?

"It's a little quicker here so you need to be quicker on your opponent's stick and get him off his game," Compher said. "Once I got into a few shifts I really felt I could play at this level. I told myself to be comfortable with the puck; I had played at a comparable level in [international play]. I was also told a million times before I got to college, 'Don't play like a freshman; play like you deserve to be on the ice, trust yourself to be confident with the puck.'"

In just two weeks, the 5-foot-11, 185-pounder is playing well beyond the level of a college freshman.

One major reason is a quiet internal motivation, borne in part by his father's recovery from prostate cancer two years ago.

"He's healthy and back to work, golfing, and goes for a run pretty much every day and goes walking with my mom," Compher said. "I knew last year he was doing better, but having a healthy family and knowing everything is all set at home makes it a lot easier to come out here and play at Michigan."

Another major reason?

"Being at Michigan you can go see a football game or basketball game," he said. "I love this experience. Everywhere you go people are talking about the football or hockey team."

Not to mention a growing familiarity with the name Joseph Taylor Compher.

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