Jake Slaker finished his lap around the ice with a deadpan look on his face. The senior forward had scored the opening goal Friday at Munn Ice Arena, and made it a point to turn to the Michigan State student section.
Until that point, the arena had been moderately loud. The Michigan hockey team likes to joke Munn is a library in terms of atmosphere, but the jeers and chants rained from all around, contrary to its defamation.
And after his goal, Slaker faced the student section and brought a single finger to his lips — doing what any person disturbed in a library would do.
“Shhh,” Slaker said, silencing the rowdy crowd.
He skated away with a smirk. It was a long time coming. He was finally playing with a level of confidence that matched his skill. He was finally producing.
The silencer was by all means intended for the attendees, but in a sense, it was aimed at the doubters, the skeptics who were questioning if his production would ever come after a rough first half of the season.
Slaker was held without a goal in the first ten games of the year and had just three goals heading into Winter break. Since the break, however, he’s scored nine goals and tacked on eight assists, bringing the impact he had been expecting to bring all year.
And as he’s found success, so has the team. Of the nine games he’s scored in, the Wolverines have won eight — he’s contributing, and Michigan’s reaping the rewards of his hot streak.
“When (seniors) get going, it gets the entire team going,” senior forward Will Lockwood said Jan. 21. “When Slakes gets going, he brings a lot of energy in the locker room. I always say our team is doing the best when Slakes is putting the puck in the net.”
It’s only natural that when goals are scored, teams find success, but Slaker’s goals in particular bring an unmatched vigor that trickles down through the rest of the team.
It’s hard to bring positivity when there’s no production to back it up, even more so when the team loses. But as he’s scoring, he’s making sure people know. His impact lies not only in the goals he scores, but in the energy he brings after each one.
“Energy and energy breeds energy,” senior defenseman Luke Martin said. “Positivity creates positivity, and the more we’ve been able to have success, we’ve just kind of built on it, and it’s snowballing now and you know, we’re rolling.
“I think (Slaker and team success) definitely have something to do with each other.”
It’s how he built his game, a development that’s jumped since the start of his Wolverines’ career. With some of the best hockey his teammates have ever seen out of him coming in the last couple months, Slaker plays a team-complementary playstyle. He plays in the gritty areas. He cleans up the rebounds. He goes after the physicality of the game with no hesitation.
“He’s not forcing anything,” Martin said. “Not to say that he was in the first half, but now he’s taking what’s coming to him and he’s not, you know, forcing anything or cheating the game, he’s playing the game the right way and on the right side and he’s having success.”
He’s putting up numbers, but not empty numbers. His goals make an impact, and as he lined up his 12th goal of the season Friday, the final nail in the coffin in the third period, he put his hand to his ear to hear if there were any more complaints.
Not a single one could be heard.