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Thursday, October 9, 2008 - Faceoff 2008 - 5C
4C - Faceoff 2008 - Thursday, October 9, 2008
Why Mark Mitera and Chris Summers didn't leave Ann Arbor and
how the unlikely pair plans to lead Michigan back to the Frozen Four
By Nicole Auerbach I Daily Sports Writer
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Photos (L-R): Zachary Meisner and Rodrigo Gaya
home bench inside Yost Ice Arena.
The eager Michigan hockey team hud-
dled around two players, who were draw-
ing plays and drills on the board.
Usually soft-spoken and quiet, senior captain Mark
Mitera shouted out instructions to his teammates, who
then skated into four separate lines.
Mitera and junior alternate captain Chris Summers
exchanged a laugh before following suit. Together, the
two maintained full control of the productive captains'
But the leadership Mitera and Summers bring to this
year's squad wasn't always a given.
FINISHING WHAT THEY STARTED
Both Summers and Mitera were first-round NHL
draft picks, and both could have left Michigan this past
off-season to play professional hockey.
And while Mitera said gave the decision more
thought than usual this summer, Summers said it was
never a question in his mind.
"It's kind of a no-brainer," said Summers. "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."
Both Mitera and Summers realize the significance
of earninga degree from Michigan as well as fulfilling
their commitment to the hockey program.
Mitera is just the second first-round draft pick in
Wolverine history to play four years. Eric Nystrom
(2002-05) was the other.
"They're taking advantage of their Michigan time,"
Michigan assistant coach Billy Powers said. "You only
have four years, and it's quick. You can't get them back
if you leave. ... These kids have bought into that belief
that you came here to finish four years and then move
on, and more importantly get your degree. It's justgreat
for the young kids to see these examples."
Michigan coach Red Berenson has long been a strong
advocateefor players staying four years and rarely thinks
a player is ready to leave early. He has used Kevin Por-
ter and Chad Kolarik's success as seniors last year as an
example for Mitera and his younger teammates.
"I stand for kids finishing school and becoming
dominant players, becoming leaders, ... and just doing
everything they can at this level before they move on,"
Beyond loyalty on the ice, Mitera and Summers
both chose to stay in Ann Arbor because of family and
friends pushing them to earn degrees.
"We really value the importance of an education,"
Mark's father, Ken Mitera, said. "Mark has always
been a pretty bright kid. ... He felt personally that it was
important to him to finish his degree, and whatever
was waiting for him after that would still be there. I
think he's very comfortable with his decision."
Mitera planned to be a biophysics major, a path he
followed until this season, when he realized that upper-
level labs would interfere with his hockey schedule.
Summers started as an architecture student and fin-
ished all the prerequisites until he was told studio time
would conflict with hockey practice.
Needless to say, he chose hockey.
As a result, both Summers and Mitera are now
enrolled in the General Studies program.
But it wasn't just textbooks and lectures that drove
the duo to stay in school - the college lifestyle was a
big factor, too.
"Chris is really enjoying every minute - not just
hockey, but he's enjoying the campus life and his
friends and classes. I think that's what also helps to
motivate him to stay in school," said Lori Summers,
Extra ice time can't hurt.
And with that reasoning, a few years of college
hockey can only make a player better, growth Mitera
and Summers have seen within their own games since
arriving at Michigan.
Powers called each player a "shut-down defense-
man," saying Mitera in particular has developed into
one of the top defensemen in the nation during his col-
Last season, Mitera recorded career highs in points
(23), assists (21) and plus/minus (+30). He was named
Inside College Hockey's Defenseman of the Year and
earned Michigan's Vic Heyliger Award as the season's
"He's bigger and stronger and has more offense to his
game now," Powers said. "He's still a defenseman that
we can rely on to put out on a 5-on-3 penalty killing or
match against the other team's best players. We'll lean
on him for 25-28 minutes a game this year."
Mitera, who was named alternate captain midway
through last season after posting near-flawless defen-
sive stats, became a role model on last year's young
team. Often paired with freshmen defensemen, Mitera
naturally became the backbone - and leader - of the
Drafted as a defenseman, Summers skated on the
blue line alongside Mitera last season. But his speed
and playmaking potential has given coaches flexibility
in where they line him up. Summers played 11 games
at left wing his freshman year, and he returned to the
position last season in Michigan's December series
against Bowling Green, where he scored a game-win-
ning goal in the first game.
While the position isn't unfamiliar, the timing is.
"The biggest difference is this is the first year I've
actually started out as a forward," Summers said. "It
gives me time to adjust and grow with my line."
In the first weeks of practice this fall, Summers has
played on lines with sophomore Matt Rust, sophomore
Aaron Palushaj and senior Travis Turnbull. Michigan
has shuffled players around, trying to find the best on-
"In all honesty, it's not too difficult to adjust," Sum-
mers said. "Offense is going to take care of itself, but
different defensive responsibilities are probably the
biggest adjustments. That's stuff you can do off the ice.
That's meetings with coaches. That's watching a little
video here and there."
Berenson and Powers both praise Summers for how
well he's made the transition this season. After the
loss of last year's entire-top line - Kevin Porter, Chad
Kolarik and Max Pacioretty - there was a clear void
"You don't find many players like Chris Summers
who can go both ways and contribute as well as he
can as a forward and a defenseman," Powers said. "He
came in here and said, 'If it's best for the team that I
play forward, put me at forward.' He's very unselfish
and a complete team guy."
The Phoenix Coyotes, who drafted Summers in
2006, see it differently.
"We had talked about where we see him as a pro and
coming out of our camp this June, (and) we made it
clear to Chris that we see him as a defenseman, quite
frankly," Phoenix Coyotes assistant GM Brad Treliving
said. "We think with his game and his ability to think,
we think his game really translates to him being a shut-
Treliving said Summers is one of the organization's
"priority players" and will be monitored closely this
season by the Phoenix prospect development director
and other scouts.
But Summers doesn't let the conflicting messages
"The NHL stuff really isn't on my mind," Summers
said. "What's on my mind is school and playing hockey
for this school. I mean, there's still a lot of time. I'm in
no rush for anything. I'm just goingto keep getting bet-
ter at whatever position this team has me play."
Summers said he talked to his Michigan coaches
about the position change and that the move isn't per-
manent. He will see how his performance and comfort
level at forward stand about a month into the season.
"No matter where I play, I just try to work hard and
have fun," Summers said. "It's a game. You have to have
fun with it."
Often soft-spoken, Mitera leads by example -
teammates respect his work ethic and his tenacious
Quick-witted and always looking for a laugh, Sum-
mers is the kind of guy who easily commands the atten-
tion of a locker room.
Together, the duo gives the Wolverines exactly the
type of captainship they need.
"They're a really good pair because they play off
each other," Powers said.
Watchingthe two players interact off the ice, it's easy
to see what Powers means. Summers and Mitera often
exchange playful barbs, making fun of everything each
That give-and-take relationship is evident on the
ice, where the two have led captains' practices for the
Wolverines over the past few weeks. Though Mitera
and Summers rely on different leadership qualities to
guide the team, they both find effective strategies to
"Mitera's been a fairly quiet guy in the locker room
throughout his career," Powers said. "I think he would
be classified clearly as someone who leads by example,
not a rah-rah, cheerleading-type captain. He's more
vocal, but he still understands that what he does on
the ice or off the ice carries more weight than what he
Said Mitera: "You don't really need to come up with
the famous movie lines before you go out on the ice."
Mitera's father attributes his son's modest personali--
ty to his upbringing. The 20-year-old senior has always
been mature for his age. "(He has) a kind of quiet confi-
dence in himself and in his teammates," Ken said.
This description of Mitera could have characterized
Summers in the past - when he was younger and qui-
"We're now seeing a side of Chris we never saw
before," Lori Summers said. "He's got a younger broth-
er who was always the class clown. We always laughed
to ourselves but when the boys were younger, Patrick
was always the cut-up and Chris was always the quiet
"I said, 'Watch, someday, it's going to switch.' Sure
enough, it did."
The Wolverines don't seem to mind the more outgo-
ing Summers, either.
Powers said Summers has a special talent for relax-
ing his teammates. Between constant chatter and jok-
ing around, Summers can loosen up even the most
"I think it's really neat that Chris and Mark really
seem to balance each other out," Lori said.
For Mitera and Summers, walking is not an option.
From skating in circles on the ice to zipping around
Ann Arbor on mopeds and pocket bikes, the duo loves
speed and adventure.
In a spur-of-the-moment decision on a lazy sum-
mer day, Mitera, Summers and three other teammates
purchased motorized vehicles that resemble miniature
"Mine's a pocket bike," Mitera said. "Mine has more
of a racing look to it, while the (other mopeds) have
more of the classic look."
Mitera and senior goaltender Billy Sauer have pocket
bikes, and the two often square off against Summers,
sophomore Scooter Vaughan and senior Travis Turn-
bull, who all have the more traditional mopeds.
"We're kind of rival gangs because they're more of
the mopeds and we're the sportsters," Mitera said with
a laugh. "It's pretty intense."
Said Summers: "We're looking for applicants for our
Though they may be rivals on the road, the two play-
ers seem more than ready to team up on the ice and lead
the Wolverines this season.