WINNIPEG - This time, the lure to play for his country was too substantial for Jim Slater to ignore.
Despite his pending status as an unrestricted free agent on July 1, the Winnipeg Jets centre has accepted an invite to suit up for Team USA at the 2012 IIHF World Hockey Championship next month in Finland and Sweden.
ďIíve worn the jersey a few times and itís always great,Ē Slater said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. ďI got asked a couple years back to go, but I was in a contract year and didnít want to get injured over there. This year, Iím in a contract year but hopefully, nothing goes wrong over there, Iím able to stay healthy and help myself.Ē
The last time Slater played for Team USA was at the 2006 World Championship.
ďItís a great tournament, Iím looking forward to be part of it,Ē said Slater, who was a member of the Team USA world junior team in 2002. ďAnytime you can play internationally, itís definitely different than the NHL game. The Europeans take it really strongly over there and they field some really good teams. Canada always puts out a great team and with Team USA, we have a great team.
ďItís a great tournament, great competition, tough games and a chance to win a gold medal.Ē
The 29-year-old is coming off a solid season that saw him increase his role on the team, anchoring the checking line as the franchise made the move from Atlanta to Winnipeg.
Slater quickly became a fan favourite, playing in the middle of Tanner Glass and Chris Thorburn to create the GST line. Heís also a strong penalty killer, good on faceoffs and a good skater, which should serve him well on the larger ice surface.
ďI donít know what role theyíre going to give me, but Iíll be happy to do it,Ē said Slater, a first round pick (30th overall) of the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. ďThe big ice is good. It gives the skilled players a little more room, but I feel like I have the speed to be able to keep up with them.Ē
Team USA announced 17 players for the roster on Wednesday, but Slater was the only Jet among them.
Itís possible that Dustin Byfuglien could accept at a later date, but that will depend on how the bone bruise on his foot heals during the next few weeks.
Jets forwards Andrew Ladd and Evander Kane are part of Team Canada, while goalie Ondrej Pavelec said Sunday heís mulling over an invite to play for the Czech Republic and defenceman Toby Enstrom wasnít sure if heíd be suiting up for Sweden or not.
ďIf we do play against each other, it would be fun,Ē said Slater.
In unrelated news, the Jetsí top affiliate, the St. Johnís IceCaps, will be without captain Jason Jaffray for the Calder Cup playoffs after he suffered a neck injury that will require surgery.
Jaffray, 30, had one assist in 13 games with the Jets this season and 17 goals and 38 points in 47 American Hockey League contests.
ďItís a big loss,Ē IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge told The Telegram of St. Johnís, Nfld. ďHeís a team leader, contributes offensively, is solid on the defensive side of the puck.Ē
Jaffray was injured during a game in Norfolk, Va., on March 30 and is scheduled to have surgery next week.