GANGNEUNG, South Korea – For most of the Olympic tournament, Jim Slater sat in the stands or on the U.S. bench patiently waiting for his chance to contribute. That opportunity came today and the 35-year-old forward made the most of it.
While the youngsters on this team have been the talk of the tournament, it was the grizzled NHL veteran, who made a career as a solid defensive player, that provided an offensive spark with a short-handed goal in the U.S. squad’s heartbreaking, 3-2, shootout loss to the Czech Republic.
Already down a goal in the second period, the U.S. was on its heels and in jeopardy of falling further behind when Mark Arcobello was whistled off for a tripping penalty. As the Czechs worked the puck around the perimeter, Brian O’Neill won a puck battle along the boards and hit Slater in stride, who outraced a Czech defender and ripped a low shot past goaltender Pavel Francouz.
Slater tied the game for the U.S. with this shorthanded goal
The goal triggered a momentum shift for the U.S., who held the edge in play in the third period as it desperately looked to break the deadlock.
“You need guys to step up and give you a spark and that was a big moment in the game,” said Slater, who is in his third season playing professionally in Switzerland.
“Any chance you can chip in when you’re not counted on to do very much, especially shorthanded, is huge. It was a big goal at that point in the game and kind of got us back into a situation where we could take over a little bit.”
After a four-year career at Michigan State University, Slater played 10 seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets organization. Throughout his 584 games, the Lapeer, Mich., native earned a reputation as a reliable defensive forward and a dependable penalty killer.
He was brought in to fill a similar role with this team but saw most of his minutes taken up by fellow veteran forward John McCarthy.
After playing only four shifts and logging 2 minutes and 20 seconds of ice time in the opener, Slater was a healthy scratch in next two games and saw limited action in yesterday’s qualification round victory against Slovakia.
In today’s do-or-die contest, the coaches turned to Slater to provide veteran leadership and kill the occasional penalty. But as the game wore on, he found himself seeing the ice more and more in crucial situations.
“He’s a great pro and competitor. He’s a hard worker and that’s why he’s on our roster,” said U.S. head coach Tony Granato. “Even though he hadn’t played very much, we knew that we had a trump card in our back pocket and he came up big today.”
His goal not only provided a spark to the U.S. team feeling the effects of playing 24 hours earlier, but it proved that Slater could contribute more than just his moral support.
“It is tough to sit on the bench for an extended amount of time, but you have to stay ready, you have to be a pro,” he said.
“When I made this team, I told the coach I’ll do whatever role you need me in. I can be a cheerleader on the bench, whatever, I just want to be a part of this team. You have to stay positive and when you get your chance you have to make it count, and that’s what happened today.”
Despite his limited ice time, Slater enjoyed every minute of his Olympic experience. And even though he and his teammates came up short of their ultimate goal, the memories of playing on this team is worth its weight in gold.
“It’s always your goal to play in the NHL and it’s always your dream play in an Olympic Games,” Slater said. “You never think it’s going to happen, especially when you get to my age of 35 and you’re playing overseas for three years. This is the pinnacle of my career, and something that I will never ever forget, that’s for sure.”
|Wed., Feb. 14||Slovenia||Preliminary||OTL, 2-3||Kwandong Hockey Centre|
|Fri., Feb. 16||Slovakia||Preliminary||W, 2-1||Gangneung Hockey Centre|
|Sat., Feb. 17||Olympic Athletes From Russia||Preliminary||L, 0-4||Gangneung Hockey Centre|
|Tues., Feb. 20||Slovakia||Qualification||W, 5-1||Gangneung Hockey Centre|
|Wed., Feb 21||Czech Republic||Quarterfinals||SOL, 2-3||Gangneung Hockey Centre|