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Moving behind the bench

From Game On Magazine - 2019 Season Preview Edition

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / Game On Magazine

Jim Slater's resume at Michigan State University is lengthy - and it's about to get even longer.

From 2001 until 2005, the Petoskey, Michigan product suited up for the Spartans of the NCAA, making the All-Rookie team in 2001-02, the First All-Star team the following season - a feat he repeated in 2003-04 - and was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top collegiate player in that season as well.

Add it all up and Slater had 64 goals and 172 points in 158 games as a Spartan. He served as an assistant captain for 37 of them, and captain for the final 83.

This season, he's adding something else to that resume: volunteer coach.

"My wife and I have two kids now. We have settled here in East Lansing where Michigan State is located and I have a good relationship over there at the university," Slater said. "I went to the head coach (Danton Cole) and asked if he was looking for anyone."

Turns out, Cole was looking for someone. Slater describes it as a perfect opportunity to stay in the game he played professionally from 2006 in Atlanta right until he retired in July of 2019 after his fourth season in Switzerland.

"I thought it was a great opportunity to learn under Danton Cole and the rest of the coaching staff and how the college game works," said Slater. "I wanted to try a bunch of things in the game of hockey because there is so much out there. Being a hockey player, you don't really know what's out there until you're done. This was an opportunity to stay here in Michigan and work at a high level with athletes.

"It's worked out well. I couldn't have asked for a better retirement plan."

That retirement plan allows Slater to stay in East Lansing while his daughter heads off to kindergarten this fall. It also allows Slater to continue his education as well.

He has a degree in human resources from Michigan State but will use this time to work on his masters in sports coaching and leadership.

While the 36-year-old learns the theory behind coaching, he can also apply everything he's learned in his own career, while developing his own coaching style.

"I'm going in there and trying to learn as much as I can from the coaches here because they've had a lot of success in the places they've been," Slater said. "You have a lot of coaches over the course of your career and everyone is different. A lot of them have the same systems and mindsets, but they teach a little differently. 

"It gives you another resource to try and build your own coaching style up. That's really what I'm going in looking to do."

Slater will bring a wealth of experience to the ice. He played 584 games in the NHL and he's been a student-athlete in the NCAA. He's also represented his country - twice at the IIHF World Hockey Championship (2006, 2012), once at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship (2002), and at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

"One of my greatest athletic achievements was the Olympics and having that experience and being part of the whole games was the cherry on top," Slater said. "It was one of the greatest athletic experiences I could ever imagine."

The four seasons he spent in Switzerland from 2015-2019 after his final season with the Winnipeg Jets were, in his words, "excellent."

"I always wanted to go over to Europe at some point in my career," he said. "I was fortunate enough to go to one of the best leagues and best countries in Europe - and to one of the best cities in Geneva. I jumped at it and had a wonderful four years there. I couldn't talk more highly of it. I loved every minute of playing over there and playing European hockey and playing in a country like Switzerland. It was a great finish to my career."

Still, Slater's home was always in Michigan. Now with the playing part of his career behind him, he's looking forward to settling in with his family and giving back to the university that gave him so much.

"I've made this my home in the summers just because of how well they treat the alumni. We're able to skate any time we want to on the ice, work out, use any of the facilities, go to any of the events we want to go to," said Slater. "For me, the program has brought so much into my life.

"To be able to go back and help these kids achieve their dreams of moving on to the next level, it's my turn to give back my knowledge and experiences. Once you go to a school like Michigan State, it's there with you forever. You're always cheering for them and it's fun to still be here and be part of the program."

Speaking of cheering, Slater says he still keeps an eye on the Jets every season.

"I still root for Winnipeg. I think some great things have happened there and are going to keep happening there," he said. "It's fun to see for the whole organization, the city, and the fans. I couldn't be happier to say that I used to play for the Winnipeg Jets. I always want the best for them."

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