By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com
Four years was just right for J.D. Speer to develop from a New York high school hockey player to an NCAA-ready prospect, and all thanks to the Utica Jr. Comets program. For the next stop on his hockey journey, he’ll take his game to Aston, Pennsylvania’s Neumann University.
Speer, who was raised 25 miles outside of Utica in Hamilton, N.Y., originally joined the Jr. Comets in 2019-20, coming out of Cazenovia High School. Over 131 regular season and 10 playoff appearances, Speer proved time and again that he was a player whose star was on the rise.
He improved from 13 points as a 17-year-old junior rookie to putting up 40 points the next season, one that saw its share of ups and downs due to COVID-19. One upside to that season was getting to play nearly half of the Jr. Comets’ games in Florida during the six-week-long Hub City Tampa initiative. After a 2021-22 season that saw him able to play in just 14 games (scoring 19 points), Speer came blasting back with 67 points in 41 games in 2022-23, earning him Atlantic Division All-Star honors.
He set the all-time Jr. Comets scoring record of 139 points in 131 games, and his 147 points in 141 combined regular season and playoff games is also a Utica Premier record. Not surprisingly, NCAA coaches wanted what Utica had.
“I first started talking with Neumann at the end of March through a former teammate who plays there. The coaches liked my offensive abilities and how I think the game,” said Speer. “I’m excited to get a good education at a very nice school. I also can’t wait to play in the United Collegiate Hockey Conference (UCHC) against many former teammates.”
Even though Speer wasn’t able to fully soak in the active Neumann atmosphere, he still was taken by the beauty of its hilltop campus, its hockey program that has won the NCAA championship (in 2009) and the high academic standard expected of the Neumann student body.
“Sadly, during my visit the school was on break so I couldn’t get a full sense of the community on campus,” Speer. “However talking with the coaches, and my friend Tyson [Rohrer], and walking the campus I knew that I found the school for me. I’ve decided to either study business or sports management.”
Along with the Jr. Comets’ proximity to his home, there were many other reasons to keep returning to Utica, among these an ownership group that includes an NHL alum (Robert Esche), a brand new state-of-the-art arena that hosted the 2023 USPHL National Championships (Utica University Nexus Center), and perhaps most importantly, a family atmosphere in the locker room and throughout the organization.
“I had a ton of fun playing in Utica, and continued to come back for my teammates and friends I made along the way,” said Speer. “There are a ton of great hockey minds in the Comets organization that helped shape my game, making me a faster and smarter player. Obviously being named a division All-Star is a great feeling after all the work put in this season. I couldn’t have done it without the teammates playing around me.”
He’s seen a lot over his four years, and was able to play under very intelligent and dedicated coaches, including current NCDC Jr. Comets head coach Louis Educate (a former All-American at Utica University) and current Premier Coach Nick Pagliacci.
“I had a blast playing in the Premier league, and I think it’s prepared me to come in and make an impact at the NCAA level,” said Speer. “This off-season, I’ve mainly been focused on putting on weight and getting stronger.”
The USPHL congratulates J.D. Speer, his family, the Utica Jr. Comets and Neumann University for his commitment.