By: Patrick Donnelly
When two siblings rise up to become premier athletes in their sport, they usually have a strong pedigree of success in said sport within the family. However, before Jesse and J.T., hockey was uncharted territory for the Compher family.
“[Hockey] was a foreign language to us growing up,” said Jesse.
J.T., the oldest of the three Compher children, was the first in the family to ever lace up skates. The love of the game transferred to his younger sisters, Morgan and Jesse, and Jesse and J.T. chose to stick with it.
“[Growing up with the game] has been fun,” J.T. said. “Neither of our parents, or anyone in the family for that matter, played hockey, so it’s been great to see.”
“It’s been so much fun going down the road with them and enjoying all the fun we’ve had with them,” said Bob Compher, Jesse and J.T.’s father. “It’s been a great family adventure.”
“I think hockey has really brought the family together.”
J.T., has established himself among the sport’s elite. He is in the midst of his third full season with the Colorado Avalanche of the National Hockey League (NHL). A former standout at the University of Michigan, the 24-year-old is on pace for his most productive season as a professional yet.
Meanwhile, Jesse has cemented herself as one of the country’s premier college hockey players. A 2019 top 10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award, annually given to the nation’s top women’s collegiate player, and a second team All-American, Boston University’s star center has come into her own as one of the team’s most dynamic attackers.
“Jesse plays very, very hard. She sets the bar, along with captains Sammy [Davis] and Natasza [Tarnowski], in a great way for our program,” BU head coach Brian Durocher said of his first line center.
During her freshman season, Jesse notched 26 points (9g, 17a), ranking third on the team and earning a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie Team. Last season as a sophomore, she finished with 17 goals and 44 assists for 61 points, the most in Hockey East and third-most in the nation, as she was unanimously selected as a Hockey East First Team All-Star. Her 44 assists were the highest total of any skater in Division I.
During the 2019 Beanpot, BU took the tournament for the first time since 1981 and for the first time as a varsity program. The Northbrook, Ill., native notched a goal and an assist in the Terriers’ shootout win over Northeastern in the semifinals before assisting on Sammy Davis’s overtime game-winner over Harvard in the championship.
“Jesse’s a great player, and I really enjoy playing with her,” said Davis, now a redshirt senior in her second year as a captain and as Jesse’s left-winger. “We have a great connection, playing on the same line together.”
Beyond Davis, Jesse’s progression has not gone unnoticed by her peers or her brother. One attribute that is easily identifiable is the addition of more and more poise in her game.
“I find that Jesse has gotten a lot more confident in the way she plays,” said junior goaltender Corinne Schroeder. “She’s always been a great player and now it seems like she has more confidence and is really working harder, looking to make the right plays that we need at the right times.”
“She’s never been a selfish player, but now she knows when to dump the puck in and go for a change where maybe you don’t have that as a freshman. She’s developed a lot as a player, overall.”
“She’s playing more confident than she did as a freshman, and it shows when she has the puck,” J.T. noted. “She’s very confident and makes strong plays. She’s faster, bigger and stronger than the last time I’ve seen her play. She’s been playing really well.”
J.T. saw Jesse’s development as a player firsthand during the offseason when the two practiced and trained together at home.
“We trained together last summer and the summer before a little bit,” J.T. said. “The more she’s home, the more I get to see her and train with her. She works very hard, and she deserves everything she’s getting over here [at BU].”
Jesse was quick to note the impact J.T. has had on her development over the years, both directly and indirectly.
“I’ve always looked up to him since we were younger,” she said.” When he went away to the [United States National Team Development Program], that’s when I realized ‘well, if I watch what he does, watch his hard work, and learn from him, then I can hopefully accomplish things that he does.’”
“He’s been a big help in my success, pushing me off the ice and helping me with the little things. So, it’s pretty cool to have that family dynamic.”
For Durocher, Jesse’s improved skating ability over her three seasons is what has captured his attention the most.
“What I’ve been mainly impressed with is her continued development as a skater, in my opinion,” BU’s bench boss said. “I always felt like she was so intense where she seemed to try too hard as a skater.”
“She seems to have smoothed that out where she lets her legs do the skating and that makes her that much more dynamic, whether it’s shooting, handling the puck or making plays. She’s obviously displayed great vision and sense for the game.”
This past weekend, the Terriers, who rank eighth in the nation, swept rival No. 9 Boston College in another edition of the storied Battle of Comm. Ave. Jesse posted a goal and an assist in Friday’s win, before notching two more helpers on Saturday afternoon.
With the Avalanche in Boston to face the Bruins on Saturday night, J.T. and the entire family were able to attend Friday’s contest at BU’s Walter Brown Arena, marking the first time he had seen his sister play for BU in-person.
“It was pretty neat to have the entire family there in crowd,” Jesse said. “[Morgan] lives in Boston so she gets to come to a lot of games, but that was J.T.’s first game so it was really cool that we were able to get the win in front of everybody.”
“We’re so lucky, and it’s exciting,” said Valerie Compher, their mother. “This is a great weekend for us with BC versus BU, and J.T. in town playing the Bruins tomorrow night.”
Jesse’s two assists on Saturday afternoon marked her 99th and 100th career points as a Terrier, joining Davis (121) in the program record books as well as the likes of Victoria Bach, who is the program’s all-time points leader with 198, Marie-Philip Poulin (181), Rebecca Leslie (171) and more.
“[Getting my 100th point] felt pretty good, but honestly, I was just happy to get the win,” Compher said on Saturday.
“She’ll continue to climb up the ranks, health permitting,” said Durocher. “I hate to ever rank people because you play in different years with different teammates and different linemates, but she’s certainly established herself in my eyes, the fans’ eyes and her teammates’ eyes.”
“I think people from past years, they recognize her being a wonderful player. Being an All-American as a sophomore speaks volumes for what she did as a league leader in scoring.”
The four-point weekend marked Compher’s 12th point (6g, 6a) over a now five-game point streak, and her 13th total point in eight games. Since returning from offseason surgery, she seems to have found a groove over her last handful of contests.
“I think I’m feeling more confident in myself since coming back,” Jesse said after Saturday’s game. “You’re always a little nervous to get back out there, but I think I got my legs back. I think if I keep playing like this, hopefully good things happen.”
“I’m excited about this team and I think we can build off of these two wins.”
“When she came back this year it wasn’t just about getting a point producer back, but you also got somebody who, in practice and games, sets the compete level very high,” Durocher noted.
With both Jesse and J.T. excelling on the ice, there’s certainly no shortage of a sibling rivalry.
“There’s a lot of sibling rivalry, but all in love, of course,” Valerie said when asked if there is some competition within the family. “It’s really funny seeing the texting wars that go on between the two of them. Whether it’s who’s playing better or who’s got more points. Even Morgan is in the mix chirping a little bit.”
“Oh yeah,” J.T. agreed, before giving his youngest sister credit, too. “Jesse likes to compare, but she’s doing a great job. If she keeps playing the way she’s playing, there’s gonna be a lot of good opportunities for her.”
“Yeah, I think there’s a rivalry a little bit. We have a little fun and games here and there,” Jesse said, smirking and trying to hold in a laugh before conceding the advantage to J.T. — for now. “He’s always got the upper hand because he teaches me everything I know. So, I’ll have to give him that one.”
However, the chatter between the two goes beyond just comparing goals and points. There is plenty of instruction exchanged during the course of their respective seasons.
“If one’s having a bad time, the other one will say ‘okay, try this’ or ‘try that,’” Valerie said. “Jesse recommends songs for J.T. to listen to, and J.T. will give Jesse pointers on holding the stick in a better way and stuff like that.”
“We’ll send each other some clips here and there – both good ones and bad ones,” Jesse said. ”So, it’s fun to see each other react to those little things.”
For their father, Jesse and J.T.’s respective surges up the ranks of the hockey world have shown him a lot about his oldest and youngest children.
“As they were getting more mature and as they learned the game a little more, they really started to enjoy it,” Bob said. “Their attitude towards the game really builds their character up. I think the two of them have a lot in common now, so they’re really close because they get to talk back and forth and stuff.”
As Durocher said, Jesse is among the leaders in the Terrier locker room, setting the bar for the team on and off the ice, even though she may not wear a letter on her sweater.
“If you’re lucky enough to have any number of those types of players, like Jesse, you add another kid who reestablishes and resets the framework for your team’s foundation and work ethic,” said Durocher.
“She’s always striving to make the team better, and she’s not afraid to speak up and say ‘we’re not doing this or that’ or ‘we need to be stronger on the puck and have better jump and a better start.’ Then she goes out and does it herself,” Schroeder said. “In the weight room she’s always working hard, especially with coming back from injuries. She’s making sure that she’s doing the work she needs to do to get better.”
Away from the busy schedule of a Division I athlete, Jesse’s glowing personality is what prevails in the eyes of her teammates and friends.
“She’s always really, really positive and she’s got that goofy attitude all the time,” said Schroeder. “I was her roommate last year and we’re living together again this year. I really enjoy living with her. She kind of brings everything up a bit.”
While success at BU has catapulted her into the conversation among other elite college players, Jesse’s success on the international stage with USA Hockey has helped her reach another level.
Last spring, Jesse won a gold medal with the United States at the 2019 IIHF Women’s World Championship, earning an assist in five games, and also earned gold with Team USA in 2016 and 2017 at the IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championships in 2016 and 2017.
On Dec. 13, USA Hockey announced its roster for the first two games of the Rivalry Series versus Canada, which included Jesse after she and Davis skated at the program’s women’s winter training camp, which began on Monday Dec. 9 before wrapping up on Friday Dec. 13.
“Every time you put on that jersey and represent your nation, it’s an unbelievable feeling,” Compher said ahead of camp. “So, I’m excited to get back out there with those girls.”
There’s certainly plenty left to accomplish at BU – the Terriers will defend their Beanpot title and host the 202 and the 2020 Frozen Four – but Durocher knows Jesse has what it takes to continue to excel after college, whether it is with the U.S. national program or elsewhere.
“Going forward, the pyramid gets smaller and smaller whether its accomplishments at BU or trying to make national teams or even Olympic teams. It’s a challenge,” he said. “So, she’s gotta find ways to squeeze out a little more success, development and improvement in her game.
“There certainly is a great base for future success there with her.”