DETROIT — In a season full of questions for the Michigan hockey team, senior captain Chris Summers has always held the answers — it just hasn’t translated onto the ice.
Summers is often the first player to come out and be barraged by questions after his team’s devastating losses. The often unanswerable questions are typically met with a simple, steady response, “It starts in practice.”
No. 20 Michigan’s 3-2 loss to No. 12 Michigan State on Friday at Munn Ice Arena saw freshman Chris Brown’s tying goal negated by a quick whistle when the ref lost sight of the puck as it slid into the net. After the game, Summers came out of the locker room to address the media.
He knew what they needed to do to avoid being swept by the Spartans for the first time since the 1997-98 season.
“Implementing our style of hockey, playing Michigan hockey for a full sixty minutes,” Summers said after Friday night’s game. “Speed, quick on the transitions, solid defense, that’s what won us games in the past and what’s won Michigan games for years.”
Those words translated into action Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena. The Wolverines won 5-4 in a game that had more momentum changes than a tetherball match.
The Wolverines fell behind 3-0 and never recovered Friday. On Saturday, Summers made sure that didn’t happen again.
Taking his postgame comments and converting them to the ice, he got the offense started early. Midway through the first period, in a 4-on-4, Summers picked up the puck behind his own net, skated around one Spartan in the neutral zone, and then split through the defensemen putting a backhand on Michigan State’s Drew Palmisano. Summers’ initial shot was stopped, but the rebound came to freshman A.J. Treais who put the puck into the wide open net.
Just seven minutes later, Summers received a pass and let go of a slap shot that bounced off a Michigan State defensemen and squeaked past Palmisano. By the end of the first period, the captain had sparked a 3-0 lead.
“Coach (Red Berenson) talked about maybe being a better leader,” Summers said Saturday. “He kind of called everybody out last night, me in particular. He knew that I needed to step my game up and I tried to do that today but it’s a team effort. I’m not going to get those assists or goals without anybody else.”
Michigan’s 3-0 lead turned into a 4-3 deficit in just over a period. But after a shorthanded goal to tie the game, Brown took the superhero cape from Summers. Stationed in front, he took two shots and picked up the puck on the side of the net and stuffed it between the post and Palmisano’s skate. This time, the referee held the whistle as Brown jammed it home.
“We came to the rink ready to play,” Berenson said. “We had a big edge in the game on the scoreboard and then we lost it, so there was no use crying about it. We just had to move on and start again, and win the rest of the game, and that’s what it came down to.”
In the wildest game of Michigan’s season, it beat an archrival and was one whistle away from gaining at least four points against the CCHA’s second-ranked team. And who was it but Chris Summers to walk out of the locker room to talk about the game. With a team that has been supremely inconsistent, sweeping just two conference series keeping the momentum going will be key for the Wolverines.
“It starts in practice,” Summers said with a smile this time. “I’ll say it every time I talk to you guys. It starts in practice.”