Jim Slater given the all clear

Jim Slater  during Jets practice, Wednesday, October 25, 2011.

Jim Slater during Jets practice, Wednesday, October 25, 2011.

Kirk Penton, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:40 PM ET

WINNIPEG - Jim Slater went to bed Saturday night fearing the worst.

The Winnipeg Jets centre, who missed 46 games last season with a concussion, was deeply concerned after taking an accidental hit to the head from Brandon Sutter during a 5-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

"When it happened, I felt really nervous and really scared," Slater said.

Slater lay on the ice for a few seconds after the hit, left slowly and did not return. He went through all the concussion protocol laid out by the NHL and was further examined by team doctors and training staff.

You simply can't be too careful with injuries to the head in the NHL these days. Just ask Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Slater didn't play Monday night against the New York Rangers, but to his great relief he was given the all clear to resume practice and was with the Jets when they departed for a seven-game road trip Wednesday.

"I feel great now," said Slater, a 28-year-old from Lapeer, Mich., who has 50 career goals in 377 NHL games.

"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'm raring to play.

"Any time there's something around the head, especially with me going through what I went through last year, it's definitely nerve-wracking and something I need to be more cautious about. I'm just really happy and lucky to not have anything more serious."

It's no slight on the toughness of today's NHL players, but the truth is they are more fragile than players were in the past, especially if they have a history of concussions. When it comes to head injuries, there's no more code about taking one for the team or playing hurt. The NHL and the players are taking these types of injuries seriously.

"This time I was a little smarter, coming off the ice right after it and not trying to finish off the period," Slater said.

"It was a weird thing, sort of a head-on collision. Just kinda compressed my head and my neck. Waking up the next morning with no problems was a weight off my back for sure."

Slater admits he put himself in a bad situation on the hit, lowering his head with impact imminent. He said he has thought about changing his game or his style of play, but can't see that happening.

"It was one of those things where I look now and I wish I had done something different," he said. "At the time, I was just trying to get the puck and do my job. When you start thinking that way, it takes away from your job and success. When it comes down to it, this is what got me here, this is what has made me be successful, it's hard to just change like that. This is the type of player I am."

Slater has been one of the Jets better forwards this season. He's tied for the team lead in goals, with three (that's scary in itself), and is the most reliable faceoff man (he's won 52% of his draws this season). Given that the Jets are 27th in the league in faceoff winning percentage, they need Slater in the lineup.

"First thing I did after that game was go check on him," Slater's linemate Chris Thorburn said. "Jimmy's a key part of our team. He just brings it every night and he's a guy, when he's out of the lineup, you miss him."

Jets coach Claude Noel said it wasn't certain Slater will play Thursday night in Philadelphia, but he's sure to be a welcome addition when he returns.

Considering Slater has more goals than front-liners Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler combined, the sooner the better.

ted.wyman@sunmedia.ca


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