Unlike in years past, junior Chris Summers won’t be patrolling the blue line this season.
After spending his first two seasons on defense, Summers will join the Michigan hockey team’s young forwards this year.
Michigan coach Red Berenson made the decision because of the large number of returning Wolverine defensemen. The Wolverines have nine blueliners, including Summers, but only six usually dress for games.
“Chris has such a good attitude,” Berenson said. “I’m not mandating that he has to be forward, but I’m putting him in that role because it will be a good extension of his abilities, just to see what kind of forward he can be.”
Summers, who Berenson named an assistant captain in the off-season, was moved to add his explosive speed up front and help fill the void created when seniors Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik graduated and freshman Max Pacioretty signed with the Montreal Canadiens.
Summers adds depth and strength to the young forwards corps. His speed alone will compensate for his relative inexperience up front and will help pace the Wolverine’s attack.
Summers has also had previous success as a forward, playing the position at times during his freshman and sophomore years. He scored a game-winning goal at Bowling Green while playing left wing last season.
“(We’re) trying to add a little bit of balance, and a bit of energy in the front,” Summers said. “But whatever the coaches want me to do, I’ll do it.”
Summers has eight career goals and 19 assists.
Though Summers may not immediately turn into a scoring leader, Berenson is confident the converted defender will succeed in his new role by adding a defensive presence and checking abilities to the front line.
“There’ll be a learning curve, but I don’t think it’ll show that much,” Berenson said. “When you watch him play, you’ll see him forecheck hard, and backcheck, and work hard. But as far as his production and his confidence around the net, that might take a little longer.”
Shuffling the lines: With the departure of two 30-goal scorers, including Porter, the winner of the Hobey Baker award, the Wolverines are trying out various forward combinations in search of good fits.
Now, the coaching staff is starting to realize who belongs where on the depth chart.
During practice recently, senior forward Travis Turnbull teamed with Summers and sophomore forward Matt Rust.
“I’ll think you’ll see the lines change at least once or maybe twice before we play a game,” Berenson said. “I think it’s important for players to skate with different players and we’re always looking for good combinations of kids that connect together on the ice.”
Great Expectations: After welcoming a large class of 11 freshmen last year, the Michigan coaches are glad to see that class starting to mature. And with the loss of Porter and Kolarik, its development will be particularly important.
This year, with just five new Wolverines, the coaching staff has less to worry about.
“Last year we were concerned and so unsure on what our lines were going to be and just even how good those kids would be,” Michigan assistant coach Mel Pearson said. “We’re more comfortable about what the (sophomores) can do at this point, more so than we were a year ago.”