Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Slater is Mr. Dedication

Jets' nominee for Masterton makes remarkable rebound

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The most imposing setback of his career eventually served to highlight the commitment the Winnipeg Jets get from centre Jim Slater every night.

Concussed and unable to play any of the back half of the 2010-11 NHL season, the 29-year-old from Lapeer, Mich., has moved on to more ice time and his most prominent role in 2011-12.

For that reason, the Winnipeg chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association has chosen Slater as the Jets' nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

Voting consideration for Slater and the 29 other candidates will conclude at the NHL's annual awards extravaganza in June when the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey will be announced.

Dedication describes Slater to a T, linemate Chris Thorburn said.

"Just to see what he went through and how he's rebounded, this year, it's been remarkable," Thorburn said. "It just kind of shows the passion he has for the game and the respect he has for it, too."

On Dec. 31, Slater accidentally ran into teammate Dustin Byfuglien and suffered the concussion that ended his season in the 36th game.

"Just having Jimmy out of the locker-room was noticeable," Thorburn recalled. "He brings a lot of life and energy to the room."

Wednesday, Slater plays his 73rd game of the season at the MTS Centre and should surpass has personal season high of 74 (2006-07) this weekend.

His next goal will be his 11th and will equal is best one-season total ever, but it's not goals that have marked Slater's season.

"I'd like to think it was his hard work and just his perseverance... he's a strong-willed guy and when he wants something, he's going to do whatever it takes to get it," Thorburn said.

Slater has battled more than just injuries since breaking into the NHL full-time in 2005-06.

Not the biggest player -- listed at 6-foot, 200 pounds -- he's been a role player and even often out of the lineup. He was a healthy scratch 20 times two seasons ago.

"One of my goals this year was to try to stay healthy for the whole season, an extended period of time," Slater said.

Jets coach Claude Noel tabbed him early with the responsibility of being the reliable checking centre and it has led to the formation of the popular GST Line with Thorburn and Tanner Glass.

In that role, Slater has moved to nearly 15 minutes of ice time a game, more than he's ever seen in his career and nearly 50 per cent more than he was getting last season.

That progress is all the more satisfying in view of the frustrating and at-times dark days that often go with concussions.

"I think I'm more educated now on the concussion issue," he said. "A couple of guys have had them this year and I try to go to those guys and talk to them about it, to make sure they know what I went through and how it can lead to what it led to for me.

"A couple of times you get depressed, but that's just from not being able to do your normal activities. I never got negative, that I'd never play again. I knew I'd wake up some day and be ready to go. But when you take someone's livelihood away from them in just one day... it can get frustrating and depressing."

Another part of the dedication to his profession has seen Slater take the initiative to start the Take A Jet to Work promotion and he said that interaction with the community at large has been rewarding.

"They've all been special," he said of the outings that have included time as a welder, orchestra conductor and firefighter. "I've learned a lot about different people, how they make a living."

That he's continuing to earn his after journeying anything but a straight line reveals his character.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 27, 2012 C3

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