As Chris Summers faced the Yost Ice Arena student section for the final time Saturday, no one in the crowd noticed.
There was no reaction when the senior captain took one stride out to the outside of the faceoff circle, made a looping turn and coasted before stepping on the bench.
Maybe it was because it was during a TV timeout in the first period of Saturday’s blowout of Lake Superior State. Or maybe it was because the crowd expected him back after what Michigan coach Red Berenson later described as a lower-body injury — after all, Summers had missed just three games his whole career.
He hasn’t returned to the ice since, in practice or a game. And as Michigan heads into its CCHA quarterfinals series against arch-rival No. 10 Michigan State, Summers’s final appearance in Munn Ice Arena is in jeopardy as well.
“I would say if he doesn’t skate tomorrow he won’t play this weekend,” Berenson said yesterday. “We’re going day to day. I’m not optimistic, but we’ll see.”
If Summers doesn’t play Friday, his replacement will be freshman defenseman Lee Moffie, who has played in just 25 games, far fewer than the 161 games of work in four years Summers has amassed.
Despite his inexperience, Moffie found a niche as an offensive defenseman early in the season which kept him in the lineup. His offensive skills paid off early, and he found a regular spot after a two-point game against Notre Dame.
But after he dressed in 13 consecutive games, Moffie was pulled for his defensive lapses. In the final five games of that stretch in late January, Moffie had a plus/minus rating of minus-five. He has played in just four of the last ten games.
“I’ve known from the start that the defense is my thing that will keep me out of the lineup, they made that pretty clear,” Moffie said. “I’m an offensive defenseman, if I’m not producing and I’m out there for goals, I’m not really worth a lot to this team.”
Since then Moffie has been part of a three-man race for the sixth defenseman along with junior Tristin Llewellyn and sophomore Greg Pateryn.
“I kind of like this position. You’re not comfortable at all. You’re playing for a spot every time you’re in the lineup. It makes you play harder and it’s playoffs, getting back in, hopefully I’ll be energized and have a good weekend.”
After 25 games in the lineup and 14 more as a healthy scratch, Moffie has partially developed from his pure offensive roots. His defensive zone coverage has improved and both Moffie and Berenson have expressed confidence in the freshman’s ability going into Friday.
But the dependence on Moffie’s play won’t be nearly as much as it was with the Wolverines’ goaltending situation. Junior goalie Bryan Hogan went out with a groin injury in the first period against Notre Dame on Feb. 25 and has yet to return. Junior Shawn Hunwick has filled the void in goal for the past four games, registering two shutouts.
By now, Michigan is used to rallying around players who are forced to step in for injured star players.
“It can make your team better too, if your team tries to pick up the slack for a player you know is missing,” Berenson said. “A good example is Bryan Hogan. Hunwick’s never started a game at Michigan and here we are going into the playoffs and I don’t think anybody in that locker room is worried about Shawn Hunwick because they are going to make sure he has a chance to play well.”