Michigan hockey defenseman Chris Summers has seen both ends of the spectrum.
In this year’s season opener, the junior saw captain Mark Mitera laying on the ice after a brutal collision. Mitera’s hopes of a spectacular senior season were crushed by a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
And on the other hand, Summers watched former Wolverines Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik, who both played four years of collegiate hockey, lead Michigan to the Frozen Four in 2008.
So for Summers, the Phoenix Coyotes’ first-round draft pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft (No. 29 overall), the decision to stay for his senior year could be a difficult one.
In October, Summers was adamant that the decision to stay at Michigan this season was easy.
“It’s kind of a no-brainer,” Summers said. “You come here to be a student-athlete, and the ‘student’ obviously comes first. It’s never been a question whether I would stay or leave. I’ve always been dead-set on staying.”
That was before he saw Mitera suffer his serious injury that kept him out of all but eight games this season. It was also before Summers began assuming duties as the Wolverines’ acting captain while Mitera was out.
Now, at the end of an eventful season, Summers must decide whether or not to jump to the NHL a year early.
Michigan coach Red Berenson seemed very optimistic last week when discussing Summers’s decision. He admitted first-round draft picks can be flight risks, but he was confident that Summers was a Wolverine for the right reasons, which include getting a Michigan degree.
“He’s not just a hockey player waiting for a phone call,” Berenson said.
Berenson reinforced his confidence in Summers at the Michigan hockey end-of-year banquet Saturday when he named the defenseman Michigan’s captain for next season.
“Since having responsibility as a captain (this year), I think he feels more attached,” Berenson said last week. “The team needs him. He’ll be our captain next year.”
But although Berenson is quite confident that Summers made up his mind already, Phoenix Assistant General Manager Brad Treliving isn’t so sure.
“Well, we’ve had some discussions,” Treliving said in a phone interview with The Michigan Daily yesterday. “We’ve had some discussions with Chris and his representatives at the end of the year since (the Wolverines have) been eliminated (from the NCAA Tournament) to see what the plans were going forward.
“We’ll see over the course of the next little bit if, in fact, what his desire is — whether it’s to stay for a fourth year or does he look at now’s the time he makes that step to pro hockey.”
Treliving was impressed with Summers’s physical growth and the overall maturity of his game this season.
“He’s a guy that we envision in a matchup role,” Treliving said. “He skates so well. He’s mobile. He can play against good players. He can eliminate time and space. Really, as he moves forward here professionally, I really do see that as a role he can and he’s going to grow into.
“In today’s game, especially on defense, the ability to be proactive and mobile with your feet and legs allows you to defend more successfully than the old days, where you thought a shutdown guy had to be 6-foot-5.”
As impressed as Treliving was with Summers’s on-ice performance this season, he seemed more interested in his off-ice accomplishments as the Wolverines’ acting captain. From handling the media, referees and teammates, Summers gained some unexpected experience.
“Really, it’s another layer in his development,” Treliving said. “Being a guy that’s looked upon to set the tone for his group and be a part of the leadership group of that team and pushing himself to be better and his teammates to be better. I think he handled all that extremely well, and it was a wonderful experience for him to go through.”
Summers will have to make a difficult decision. Berenson doesn’t usually appoint a captain unless he’s sure the player is staying. And from what Summers has said recently, the decision seems almost finalized. Summers doesn’t appear in a rush to leave Michigan just yet.
“I think (Berenson) says it best: you’re preparing for a life after hockey,” Summers said Sunday. “There’s more to the world than just skating on the ice every day. It’s a game. It should be enjoyed. And I think that’s what a lot of players miss out on, that it should be fun.
“It’s unfortunate that it turns into a business once you get to the professional rankings, but that’s the way it is.”
— Gjon Juncaj contributed to this report.