DETROIT – Maybe he was the last freshman skater to notch a goal.
Maybe it took him almost the entire regular season to do it.
Maybe it was just an empty netter.
But Chris Summers has an undeniable scoring touch.
When Summers slipped his first puck into the net in the waning minutes of a victory over Western Michigan two weekends ago, few knew just what he had up his sleeve.
This past weekend, Summers revealed it, spearheading the three-goal comeback effort in a 3-3 tie with Michigan State. The Milan native chipped in Michigan’s first two goals and assisted on the equalizer with a little more than a minute remaining in the game.
And it was just his second full game at forward all season.
Summers first moved to the front against Western Michigan, filling in for freshmen Brian Lebler after Lebler was injured in the third period.
Though Lebler played this weekend, Michigan coach Red Berenson kept Summers as a forward, putting him up on Michigan’s speedy second line alongside sophomore Andrew Cogliano and junior Chad Kolarik.
“We needed a strong skater to play with Cogliano,” Berenson said of Summers. “He’s a good competitor, he’s strong, he’s tough – and he can really skate.”
“He looks like Pavel Bure out there sometimes,” Cogliano said. “I can’t keep up with him sometimes. He’s always flying around.”
The rookie’s speed is just part of what attracted the Phoenix Coyotes to Summers last summer when they drafted him in the first round (29th overall) of the NHL Entry Draft. Another part of it was his versatility.
Summers grew up playing forward, but switched to defense at age 14. Then last season, while playing with the United States National Team Development Program, he was sent to the front lines again.
Though Berenson brought him in as a defenseman, Summers has proved he has the finesse of a forward.
Saturday at Joe Louis Arena, Michigan peppered Spartan goalie Jeff Lerg with 57 shots. In the flurry, the Wolverines had a hard time solving Lerg – until one player put himself in the right place at the right time.
“My role in the line was basically just to go to the net and put away any loose pucks,” Summers said.
With so many shots, there were lots of loose pucks. Summers did his duty first off an assist from fellow freshman Steve Kampfer. Kampfer fired the puck with Summers waiting on the doorstep, and Michigan got on the board for the first time.
Summers worked it in again during the third period off a nifty assist from Cogliano. The Wolverine comeback effort peaked at the end of the game with another Cogliano-Summers connection, this time with Summers dishing the puck from behind the net and Cogliano flipping it in.
Hard to believe this freshman was the same guy just celebrating his first career goal a week ago.
That night, Summers had these prophetic words for the press:
“It’s an icebreaker, just get the first one,” Summers said. “It happened to be any empty netter, but oh well. They don’t ask how, they just ask how many.”
The freshman broke the ice indeed. In just more than a week, his answer to the “how many?” question went from zero to three.