- File Photo/Daily
BY MARK BURNS
Daily Sports Editor
Published February 1, 2011
Chris Summers didn’t know whether to yell, scream or swear following his recent call-up to the Phoenix Coyotes two weeks ago.
“Everything kind of goes blurry there for a little bit,” he joked on Tuesday afternoon.
But on Jan. 20 in the Coyotes’ pre-game skate — prior to the team's game at Los Angeles — Summers was forced to clear the blurriness and face reality. Phoenix coach Dave Tippett had called the former Wolverines’ number to round out the Coyotes’ roster against the Kings.
“Coach Tippett said, ‘How are you feeling? You ready to go? We’re going with seven defenseman,’ ” Summers said. “So I was like, ‘OK, here we go.’ ”
With that vote of confidence, the 2010 Michigan graduate played his first-ever game in The Show, grabbing 13 minutes of ice time and blocking two shots in Phoenix’s 2-0 win. And even though the Milan, Mich. native has only played in one game since, he’s been a consistent performer with the San Antonio Rampage, the Coyotes’ American Hockey League affiliate.
Through 45 games with the Rampage, Summers has totaled one goal and seven assists with a plus-seven rating on the back end.
It's still undetermined how many more opportunities this season Summers will have to wear the Coyote sweater. He acknowledged that with the expectations and early-professional success, comes the added pressures of playing against seasoned veterans who have locked up their spots in rosters across the league.
“It is pretty crazy to think about,” Summers said. “This is a job now. You’re not playing for your school or your local team. You don’t even think about it because it is pretty much the same game you’ve been playing since you were seven or eight years old.”
Summers added that maybe he’s a little too hard on himself at times, considering college life and schoolwork has been removed from the equation — today, he passes the time by investing in the stock market and cooking on his new Charcoal Weber Grill.
“Now, (hockey is) all I think about,” he said.
After the Michigan hockey team’s practice on Tuesday, junior defenseman Brandon Burlon commented on his experiences with Summers, who was his defensive partner during his freshman campaign in 2008-09.
“He showed me the ins and outs of being a college defenseman,” Burlon said. “He actually helped me mature as a person off the ice, too. He took me under his wing, being his roommate on the road.”
From seeing Summers move from his four-year collegiate career to the professional ranks, Burlon hopes to follow a similar path — and it’s one that 50-plus other Wolverines have taken as well.
“It’s not a secret, a lot of the players that come to Michigan want to play pro hockey,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said last Thursday. “We’ve provided a program to help players be smarter, stronger, more mature and hopefully better players that learn how to win.”
Berenson continued, saying that “you don’t have to be a first round pick” necessarily to make it to The Show, with “some kids really taking off once they get (to Michigan).”
Summers had both attributes, in fact.
Drafted in the first round and 29th overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Summers brought a skill-set to Ann Arbor similar to that of Los Angeles defenseman and former Wolverine, Jack Johnson. Summers, a strong, offensive-minded defenseman, excelled prior to his Michigan days with the U.S. National Team Development Program and continued to improve with the Wolverines — he totaled 16 goals and 44 assists in 163 games under Berenson.
But even with so many Wolverines having the fortunate opportunity to play in the NHL, according to Berenson, playing in NHL isn't the end-all, be-all of playing for Michigan.
“We’re sitting in here, we’re trying to make everyone learn how to play on a winning team and learn how to make themselves better players as well as be more than a hockey player,” Berenson said. “I don’t want to see guys leave Michigan and play 10 years in the minors. I don’t want to see guys be hockey bums. I mean I give myself two years — you either make it in the NHL or you go back to law school or get your Ph.D. and move on with your life.”