After years of moderate results, Matt Summers has had multiple opportunities during the last two seasons to prove himself as an efficient goal scorer in the CHL.
Through an injury that forced Summers to miss about a month this season, the first-year Thunder centerman has delivered on the promise he spawned with a successful stint in junior hockey.
Summers has six goals in the last three games, not coincidentally all Thunder wins. His most recent performance was a hat trick in a 7-5 win over Evansville on New Year's Eve.
"It's been a lot tougher than it looks," said the 25-year-old Summers. "Right when I came back, I was really bad out of shape and I jumped into games pretty quick. It just took me a little while to get my confidence back."
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In three previous CHL seasons before 2010-11, Summers never topped 13 goals, though his 85 assists in those years cemented him as an effective play maker.
Last season with Mississippi, Summers maintained the assists while adding goals. His 28 goals with the RiverKings more than doubled his total from the previous year and made him a valuable commodity to the Thunder, which was looking to add to a high-ranking offense.
"I never just want to match (previous seasons' totals), I always want to show progress," Summers said. "If you show progress, it means you're working hard when you need to, in the offseason and during the season."
Summers was beginning to build upon last year, notching a goal in his second game with Wichita and two more in the following game. But in early November, Summers suffered a shoulder injury that kept him sidelined for 27 days.
Returning before he was fully healthy — Summers said the injury may never fully heal — Summers labored to regain his form, going without a goal in eight of his first 10 games.
Then Summers scored in a win over Missouri and had two goals the next night before the hat trick. His surge has helped the Thunder regain first place in the Berry Conference from Allen.
"I like to build off the game before, for sure," Summers said. "But you also move on and start thinking about the next one immediately after a game."
Wichita has several capable scorers but no dominant force, and that helped Summers find his place in the offense after his return.
As one of six players with between 12 and 15 goals, Summers has highlighted the Thunder's balance while accentuating its depth.
"It's good to see the points spread out," Summers said. "It really shows a lot about the team and how deep it is. I didn't fall too hard out of the system. I had an awful lot of practice."
Notes — Matt Robinson was chosen as replacement for Alex Bourret on the CHL All-Star team. Bourret, the Thunder's leading scorer with 13 goals and 26 assists, was called up to the AHL's Worcester Sharks on Thursday. Robinson, the Thunder's leading scorer last season, has 12 goals and 13 assists.... Forwards Chris Greene and Colin Hemingway were actriviated from injured reserve before Friday's game against Quad City.
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