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It's now or never for Jets' Slater

NHL vets ramping up workouts for possible start of regular season

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It could have been the subject of a dandy coffee-table book or possibly be turned into one of those HBO 24/7 series.

And it would have been riveting, either way.

You see, Jim Slater hasn't exactly sat on his thumbs during the 109-day National Hockey League lockout.

Thanks to the ongoing labour battle, the Winnipeg Jet centre -- among other things -- spent the holidays in his hometown of Lapeer, Mich., for the first time in eons. He took his folks to see the polar bears in Churchill. He visited Yellowknife and watched his alma mater, Michigan State, at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

He did the weather on CTV one night, played street hockey on the top level of a parkade at The Forks and attended the Canadian Football Hall of Fame induction dinner here in Winnipeg.

Most of his days, however, were spent trying to keep his skills sharp with a handful of NHLers at the MTS Iceplex or at the Focus Fitness gym on site. Wednesday was no different, albeit with rumours circulating -- again -- that a deal may soon be close to save the season.

And as much as he's been able to keep himself entertained over the last little while, Slater, quite obviously, would love to see his lockout adventure come to a close.

"Hearing everything that we've got to play by January 19 or the season is going to be lost, this is the time where us guys here skating are going to ramp it up because if it doesn't happen now, then it looks like it won't happen," he said after an early morning session on the ice with would-be Jet teammates Toby Enstrom and Olli Jokinen, along with Colin Wilson of the Nashville Predators and Ryan Garbutt of the Dallas Stars. Alex Burmistrov was also spotted, but he did not skate.

"We're preparing just like how we have been. We're going to keep skating and working out every day and getting ready. Hopefully the word comes and it's a positive word and we can get something going here and get the season started.

"If it doesn't happen, we know we gave it our best to try and get ready and when that camp does start that we come in in the best shape and we can start the season right away."

Across the hockey map NHLers were taking a similar approach. There were numerous reports of players returning from Europe, including Maxime Talbot and Jason Spezza, in order to get ready for training camps. Should the talks follow the NHL's timeline -- and there's certainly no guarantee of that, despite the possible progress being made -- then camps would open on Jan. 12 with the regular season starting a week later.

The cynics will insist this has all been heard before, all to no resolution. And they're right. But Slater is a glass-is-half-full guy and what he is seeing this week from New York -- the back and forth of real negotiating -- has him hopeful.

"There was a while there where there were no talks and no scheduled talks," Slater said. "Obviously that frightens you a little bit. But now that they're in the room talking with counter-proposals a couple of times back and forth, agreeing on some topics... it's definitely a good thing." Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 3, 2013 D2

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