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His head's still in the game

Slater back at centre after hellacious hit, won't change his style

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Imagine going to bed fearing the worst and praying to awake without a headache or blurred vision.

Then imagine the euphoria when the sun comes up and everything is right again.

That's how last Saturday night and Sunday morning unfolded for veteran Winnipeg Jets centre Jim Slater, who suffered through roughly a 12-hour stretch of uncertainty where his career flashed before his eyes after a collision in a 5-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Slater, who missed the last half of the 2010-11 season with post-concussion syndrome, immediately skated off the ice after the hit.

And immediately he began worrying.

"I feel great now," Slater said Wednesday, speaking for the first time since the weekend incident. "Obviously, when it happened and that night, I was really nervous and really scared about what was going to happen.

"That night, I went home... just the thoughts that go through your head, that's the biggest thing -- trying to get those negative thoughts out.

"It worked out. The next day, I woke up with no problems besides a little soreness. The trainers did a great job to get my body ready and I feel like I'm ready to play.

"It was a weird thing... it was more of a head-on collision," Slater said. "I just kind of compressed my head and my neck. Any time there's something around the head, especially with me now going through last year, it's definitely nerve-wracking and something I have to be more cautious about."

Slater accompanied the Jets on their flight to Philadelphia for their longest road trip of the season, although it's possible he won't be in the lineup again until the weekend in Tampa after he receives the green light from the team's doctors and trainers.

Understandably, Slater was asked Wednesday if he had considered changing, or will change, how he plays the game in order to remove any further potential risk.

And, understandably, he balked at the suggestion -- although, admittedly, the idea has crossed his mind.

"I thought about that in the summer," he said. "Am I going to have to change my game?

"But it comes down to this is what got me here and made me be successful. It's hard to change it like that. It's just the type of player I am. I put myself in a bad situation and it's one of those things I look at now and wish I had done something different, but at the time, I was just trying to get the puck and do my job and something like that happens.

"It's hard to think like that during a game. I feel that when you start thinking that way, it really takes away from your job and your success. That's the main thing for me -- going out there and playing my game every night. Things like that happen."

Slater's game has been very good for the Jets through the first part of the season. A defensively responsible character-type, he has arguably fulfilled his role with the team better than any other player.

"He's been good. He's been reliable, good on faceoffs... we've missed that," said head coach Claude Noel. "He holds the work ethic on our team and he pushes the pace. He's been really good for us."

The added bonus? He's tied for the team's goal lead with Kyle Wellwood at three, prompting linemate Tanner Glass to wisecrack: "He's on pace for 40."

(Slater's career best is 11, set in 2009-10).

"My goal coming into the season was to get off to a fast start and get some confidence," Slater said. "So far, it's happened. I feel good about where my game is right now. The line's playing really good, just getting into the other team's zone and getting shots on net.

"That's the biggest thing: making the chances count when you get them."

And being thankful those chances continue.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 27, 2011 C2

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