Jack Summers’s sight worth seeing
The normally vibrant silver grayed to a rustic dreariness, the ever-loud roar of cheers and chants voided into silence. Yost Ice Arena was empty — its lights turned off.
When the weather permits, the surrounding window panels let sunlight seep through its aperture, the same way a stained glass window of a cathedral would let natural light break over its wooden seats.
And then the lights turned on.
It was game day against Michigan State, and the atmosphere was ready for a change. The overhead floodlights blasted above, illuminating every crack and crevice. All the detail drowned out by darkness quickly inundated the scene — the banners, the ice and the history brought to light.
And Jack Summers’ eyes caught every inch of it.
As part of his pregame routine, he made his way to his self-assigned seat.
Emerging from the tunnel connecting the locker room to the hallway, he turned and climbed up the stairs, the railing to his left. He went 10 steps up, then five steps to his right. Row six, seat six, he took a seat. That was his spot, and from there, he could see everything. It centered the entire arena into one view.
And, sitting there, Jack took it all in.
The banners. Above him to his left were the league titles, 14 regular season titles hanging from the rafters. If he tilted his head up, his eyes would see two nations’ flags draping overhead, surrounded by nine NCAA championship banners — the pinnacle of a season.
And across the rink, 10 banners, conference tournament titles, were hidden from his sight by the jumbotron. Though he couldn’t see them, their presence was unmistakable. The team was in the midst of the conference tournament, and he was looking to help add another one.
The ice. It had meant the world to him growing up 30 minutes from Ann Arbor to just be able to watch. Now he was playing, seeing everything up close and personal. As he sat, he stared at the ice and visualized his upcoming game, seeing potential plays unfold. He’d project things he saw during film sessions or from memory — both good and bad.
The history. He thinks it’s one of, if not the most, historic places, in college hockey. So many coaches, players, stories before his time. But there was some personal history, too. It was his family’s favorite team, favorite rink where he used to attend games as a kid.
Back then, he couldn’t even imagine being in this position. He dreamed about it, sure, but all kids dream big.
“I got older; the dream started getting bigger,” Summers said. “And then eventually, it kind of started to fall into place, and it just came to reality.”
And so Summers sat halfway up the stands, keeping to himself — thoughts only he could hear and vision only he could see.
Growing up, he could never see himself playing for the Wolverines, having a role on the team, being family with his teammates, but now, as he stared at the ice and all that surrounded it, he had a sight worth seeing.
Jack looked around the locker room sheepishly.
His dad, Scott, was a big influence on his life. Scott helped pay for all of his ice time, put him on travel teams and taught him how to skate and shoot, among other things.
And when Jack was four, Scott taught him how to lace up his skates. The two of them did it differently than everyone else. It wasn’t exactly backwards, but it was best described that way and, ultimately, unorthodox. Most importantly, though, it required a lot of strength to do.
That weekend though, his mom, Colleen, had taken him to the rink. It was her turn with him — his parents were divorced — and at a young age, he didn’t have the strength to tie his skates, and neither did she.
Instead, laces hanging loose, he softly looked around at other kids’ dads, trying not to attract too much attention to himself. When Colleen noticed, she quietly asked him, “Jack, who do you want to tie your skates?”
After one more look around the room, he pulled her in close and whispered in her ear which dad he wanted. He was too shy to ask on his own.
That’s just how Jack was growing up.
“He was extremely (shy), extremely,” Colleen said. “He would not be the little boy that went out to look for friends. They had to approach him.
“He truthfully would rather hang out with Mom and play games, or we would play catch all the time. Just because he was so shy, he was just more comfortable at home. He just was at home doing what he needed to do or at the hockey rink, that was pretty much it.”
Jack played catch or went to the outdoor rink in his yard with his dad and shot around. A Livonia native, he went to Michigan hockey games with either of his parents. He got anxious if he was ever about to be late for practice and he was always worried about doing something wrong.
It was important to him not to mess up.
“Just very, a gentle soul,” Colleen said. “Jack didn’t break any rules. He followed every rule. He did exactly what I told him, when I told him, I didn’t have to tell him twice. He beat himself up if he didn’t do good in school.”
His timidness continued all the way from his childhood through high school, but his ambition contrasted with his nature. When he was 17, he was adamant on making it to a juniors team. And from there, he wanted to play for Michigan.
“He was always like, ‘Oh, I wanna get drafted. I want to go play for this team, in a different state. I want to do this. I want to do that,’ ” Colleen said.
The thought of the adventure excited him. He wanted to play for a higher-level league to boost his chances of getting an offer to Michigan. He wanted the escapades of traveling across the country, an experience he could expand on with the Wolverines. He wanted the novelty of it all.
That summer after his junior year, the start of Jack’s dream got realized. He was drafted in June to the NAHL and made his way to Springfield, Ill. to play for the Springfield Junior Blues. But what he saw when he got there was a completely different reality.
“I don’t think he truly realized what it entailed until he got there,” Colleen said.
Many hockey players go through the experience of a billet family and a different environment. Some like it, others don’t. Jack was the latter. He had left going into his senior year of high school, and as a shy, timid kid, moving off to a new place was a tough experience for him. He was in an entirely different state, living with a family he had never met and didn’t have a single soul he knew. It was scary.
The experience only got rockier when Jack was traded midway through the season to the Tri-City Storm in the USHL — the top junior league. Everything he went through, the new cities, new households, new people — he would have to do it all again.
He spent September to November in Illinois, November to April in Nebraska, and after that, he went home to graduate with his regular class, shifting through three high schools in one year. The whole debacle was tedious and stressful, and for a shy person like Jack, it was even more taxing.
He would often find himself on the phone with his mom.
“I would tell him, ‘Honey, it’s okay if you need to come home. No one’s gonna look down on you if you can’t handle it.’ ” Colleen said. “As badly as he wanted to, he stuck it out. So I can tell you that that was so hard for him.”
It was his drive that told him he couldn’t quit. He had a vision in place, and sticking in the USHL was the best shot to see his dreams of playing with the Wolverines materialize.
Fifteen minutes passed. That was the amount of time he allotted for his routine, never more, never less.
Jack got up from his seat, and began his walk back to the locker room. He didn’t look back.
Long gone were his reserved and timid days. After his initial year in the USHL, Jack grew accustomed to the process and gained confidence the more he played. And after joining the Wolverines, he found another family, brothers who helped him come out of his shell and into his own.
Ironically enough, it was from his first year in the USHL that he built a relationship with Bill Muckalt, then-head coach of Tri-City Storm. After Muckalt left the following year to rejoin Michigan coach Mel Pearson, it was a no-brainer move for Summers to come join.
He had his sights on coming from the beginning. That move just made it more comfortable for him.
The tunnel that connected to the rink engulfed his vision in darkness as he continued his stroll.
He had dealt with many obstacles on his journey, even once he got to Michigan. There were times even in his current sophomore year, after plays he’d make, where he doubted himself when the mistakes proved costly. Sitting on the bench, hands to his head, he doubted himself, and the nerves started to kick back in.
And that’s why he’d sit on the bleachers, looking at the view of Yost and taking it all in.
“That’s what it is, the anxiety and pressure, how you deflect that or absorb it,” Pearson said. “Because you’re trying to get into a zone you don’t want to be so hyper, anxious.”
Jack walked through the halls, only looking ahead of him.
His sights set, not on the ice, but rather to the game he’s about to play.