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Michigan-bound Slaker finds opportunity, success in USHL

 

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When the expansion Bloomington Thunder searched for building blocks, it found an important one in Jake Slaker.

The University of Michigan commit emerged as a force up front for the United States Hockey League club, helping it reach the Clark Cup Eastern Conference final in its second season.

“We’ve been leaning on Jake to be our captain and the face of our team,” said Thunder coach-GM Dennis Williams. “He has a great sense of leadership and pride.”

Slaker’s path has featured many twists and turns, ones he said made him the person and the player he is today.

“I try to look at everything in the most positive way,” he said. “A lot of kids don’t have the opportunities and resources to play I did. I didn’t want to leave anything behind. I realize nothing is promised to us in life, so we have to adapt and not worry about what we can’t control.”

His father Dirk’s family moved to San Diego from Michigan in 1960, and Dirk became hooked on hockey in 1966 when the San Diego Gulls of the old Western Hockey League debuted. He learned to play and made the University of San Diego’s club team.

After medical school in Georgia, he later became the team physician for the Atlanta Knights of the American Hockey League. He also was part owner of an inline hockey rink, a perk all of his five children, of which Jake is the youngest, took advantage of.

“My older brothers (Kurt and Zach) were very good roller players, and I really looked up to them,” Jake said. “Both my sisters (Kristin and Lauren) played. We were a hockey family through and through.”

The family moved back to San Diego when Jake was seven, and that was the first time he went on the ice.

“I’d never been on the ice, but I knew I needed to because like every little kid, I grew up wanting to be a pro,” he said.

Slaker played for the UTC Jaguars, San Diego Saints, SDIA and LA Hockey Club before playing for the Lemieux Hockey Academy in Arizona and the Chicago Fury. He finished his Midget career with Detroit Belle Tire. Slaker’s favorite memory from California is one of his first.

“I played in a house league out of the UTC mall, and I played on both the Mite and Squirt teams,” he recalled. “I’d have games on the same night, and my dad would put me on his back with my skates and helmet on and carry me to the car. Then he’d carry me into the other rink so I could play both games.

“That shows the commitment he and my mom (Lori) had, and it meant a lot. We had such a love for the game.”

That love drives Slaker, who put up 42 points (including 21 goals) in 57 games, then added 12 more in Bloomington’s 10 playoff games.

“Jake did whatever it took for the team to win,” Williams said. “He loves the game and it shows in how hard he works.”

“I knew I was never going to be the biggest guy,” the 5-foot-10, 186-pound Slaker added. “A lot of people told me I would never be good enough to play AA, then AAA, then junior.

“I wanted to prove people wrong.”

That Slaker landed in Bloomington for the Thunder’s launch is a testament to the closeness of the hockey world.

“I can’t take credit for trading for him,” Williams said. “Our former director of scouting, Jesse Davis, who had a history with Jake at Belle Tire, insisted we get him. It didn’t take Jake long to find his spot.”

Williams would not be surprised to see his second Bloomington captain succeed with the Wolverines.

“He could eventually be a captain for Michigan,” he said. “He doesn’t get too high or too low. Once people see his work ethic, they will gravitate toward him.”

Photo/Bloomington Thunder

– Chris Bayee