Jim Slater is back. Finally.
And nobody is happier about it than the Winnipeg Jets centre, who has missed all but eight of his team's games this season after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia in early November.
"It's been a long time. I've had so many feelings and emotions running through my body over the last four or so months," said Slater, who was also limited to just 26 games in 2012-13 because of a hand injury.
"For me right now, it's just looking forward, staying positive and being focused trying to get back into the lineup and help this team in any way to continue the success we've had over the past few weeks."
Slater had begun to skate with his teammates even before the Olympic break began Feb. 8, but it wasn't until Wednesday at the MTS Iceplex that he was once again a full participant at practice. And now that he's back, he says he's game-ready.
"I feel good. I don't have any soreness or pain anymore," said Slater. "And I feel like I've put in the time and the effort to get this thing strong and ready for the last little bit here and hopefully the playoffs."
Slater was asked if it was harder for him to watch as his teammates struggled mightily through the first half of the season or when they went on a 9-3-1 tear under a new head coach in Paul Maurice leading up to the Olympic break.
"Obviously, it's tougher to watch when you're struggling because you feel like you can help the team try to get out of that," he said. "It's fun watching guys win. And the teams we were beating and the way we were doing it -- obviously you're rooting for the guys to win. So when you do have an opportunity to come back, it's a chance for a playoff spot."
Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian said Slater's impending return to the Jets lineup will be a valuable addition to a club that finds itself in a playoff race.
"Jim brings a lot to the table, especially in the faceoff circle he's very strong," said Bogosian. "But any time you get a new guy back, it refreshes a team a little bit. And it's nice to see a guy that works that hard and has had some tough luck with injuries to be back with the team. We're all looking forward to having him back."
Because he was continuing to rehabilitate, Slater remained in Winnipeg during the Olympic break and found himself in the pale minority Wednesday in a dressing room full of tanned teammates who'd spent much of their 10 days off lying on beaches or golfing.
"Yeah, I kept my Winnipeg tan going," he said with a laugh. "I stayed here, just rehabbing and getting on the ice and trying to skate. I skated the river a few times, trying to get back in."