BY MICHAEL EISENSTEIN
Daily Sports Editor
Published January 13, 2009
After the Michigan hockey team’s 5-1 win over Miami (Ohio) on Friday, junior acting captain Chris Summers was quick to explain his and fellow linemate freshman Brandon Burlon’s offensive success from the blue line.
The two defensemen notched the game's first two tallies, which gave the Wolverines an insurmountable lead less than four minutes into the first period on their way to posting a combined plus-six rating. Burlon also added an assist.
“I teach him everything he knows,” Summers said with a laugh, while Burlon sat a couple chairs away.
The chemistry between the duo has translated seamlessly onto the ice. Burlon and Summers have skated together for the past eight games, amassing an impressive five goals, nine assists and a plus-21 rating.
“You have two intelligent players, first off, and they both obviously like to join the rush and get involved offensively,” Michigan assistant coach Billy Powers said. “But they’re doing a good job of playing off each other.
“No question that they’ve sparked. They’ve hit it off, chemistry-wise.”
Burlon’s and Summers’s offensive games naturally complement each other — Burlon prefers to puck handle, while Summers likes to skate with the puck. And Powers said each is very good at playing it safe defensively when the other joins the offensive rush.
But while their chemistry has resulted in very solid offensive statistics, their back-and-forth communication has also helped the rest of the team’s defensive play each weekend.
“That’s really evident during the game," Summers said. "We’ve practiced it in practice, and we try to talk to (goalie Bryan) Hogan and the centers, make sure everyone's talking when we have to go. We play off each other.”
At the very beginning of the season, both Burlon and Summers were thrown into unexpected situations. Burlon, an Ontario native, got a late start to the year when he sat out eight games with an ankle injury.
Summers, on the other hand, was given with added responsibility after captain Mark Mitera tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the season opener. Summers was preparing to move to forward in the preseason, but Mitera’s serious injury forced the junior back to the blue line, while also adjusting to his promotion from alternate to acting captain.
Yet despite the obstacles, Summers, the Phoenix Coyotes’ 2006 first-round NHL draft pick, continued to improve on defense. He now “might be the best defenseman in this league,” according to Powers.
And Burlon, the New Jersey Devils’ 2008 second-round pick, who Powers describes as “a very, very, very intelligent hockey player,” has matured quickly as a player since becoming a Wolverine.
So when the two came together, Summers’s impact on Burlon and the resulting chemistry was not surprising.
“Playing with a young freshman, he's bringing him along,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “They’re giving us a defense pair we have a lot of confidence in.”
And Burlon is enjoying the experience of learning from the team’s most seasoned healthy blueliner.
“He’s done a great job of taking me under his wing, showing me the ins and outs and where I'm going wrong and complimenting me when I'm doing things right," Burlon said. "I look up to a guy like him."
“Hopefully, we stay together and keep doing the things we've been doing.”