Matt Summers was the talk of the Wichita Thunder’s offseason before the team filled a roster spot.
Since Summers stayed in Wichita, fans and Thunder front office personnel were able to monitor Summers’ plan to get in better shape following the team’s loss to Fort Wayne in last season’s Central Hockey League championship.
The summer barely started before reports of Summers’ more impressive physique began circulating. A job at the Wichita Ice Center allowed Summers, Wichita’s leading returning scorer, frequent workouts on the ice and in the attached Genesis Health Club.
When the Thunder debuted last Friday, Summers was 23 pounds lighter than the 213 pounds at which he started the previous season. His dedication to self-improvement could help Wichita transition from losing four of its top five scorers.
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“I was really fortunate to be offered to have that job there at the ice sports rink,” Summers said. “It was everything from skating with little kids to skills and drills with 60- and 70-year-olds. It was all ages, and it was the best thing to be on the ice for me.”
Summers had a workout partner in teammate Jarred Mohr, a defenseman who hasn’t missed a game in more than two seasons. Those two put in the hard work on machines designed to improve cardiovascular health, but what kept Summers going was the fun he had working on the ice with people who wanted to learn to skate.
The 26-year-old Summers, in his second season with the Thunder, found fulfillment in teaching and in helping develop a growing hockey community.
“I love skating year-round and I love working with the kids,” Summers said. “I hope to do it again, because you can’t make a program better in just one year. I like the way this Wichita hockey program is moving, and I’m thankful to be a part of it and to help out.”
Because the Thunder advanced to the CHL Finals, it had a shorter offseason than every league opponent (Fort Wayne moved to the ECHL). In past seasons, Summers might have had to gradually work himself into game shape, but since he did that during the offseason, he was able to begin with no rust.
Summers isn’t an electrifying offensive player, but he can supplement players with breakaway scoring abilities by making sharp passes and by working hard for his own goals. Last season, Summers was fifth on the Thunder with 19 goals, and his 42 assists were four more than any other player.
With added muscle but lost weight, Summers can improve his speed while maintaining his ability to fight through defenses for goals or assists.
“I really didn’t like the way it ended last year, losing the way we did,” Summers said. “(Because of) my play, I knew I needed to make some changes to my game. I needed to get a little faster and lose a little weight. You don’t know how much extra weight you’ve got on until it’s off.”
Bringing back Summers helps the Thunder move on more smoothly after losing four other forwards — Alex Bourret, Matt Robinson, Thomas Beauregard and Aaron Davis — who combined for 219 points last year.
Summers may be relied on more heavily for goals, and he’s comfortable on a line with fellow returner R.G. Flath and newcomer Gregor Hanson, Summers’s roommate. Summers has improved his point total in each of the past three seasons, and a continuation of that pattern could help the Thunder maintain a high-powered offense.
“The guys that are still around, they’ve got to step up and fill in for the people that we lost,” Summers said. “And the league keeps getting better year-by-year. A lot of the motivation of getting in better shape is that I’ve been in the league six years, and if you don’t get better then you haven’t made the most of the offseason.”