Slaker's two goals send Michigan past Michigan State
EAST LANSING — Jake Slaker had just stopped in the left faceoff circle when he turned and saw a pass coming from Nick Blankenburg at the blueline.
That place in the circle has become the senior forward’s office on the power play lately, and this time, the pass found just the right spot. Slaker’s one-timer sent the puck off his stick and into the net before goaltender John Lethemon had a chance at stopping it.
For the second time in three games, Slaker opened the scoring on a power-play goal from the left circle. Friday, the goal came just six minutes into the game.
“We’ve been working on power play a lot lately,” Slaker said. “We’ve been up and down this whole season, so it was really huge to get a quick goal and then that just kinda kept the momentum going for the rest of the game.”
It was Slaker’s third goal in three games — and he added a fourth before the night was over.
Michigan held a 4-1 lead just over halfway through the third period, and Michigan State was largely carrying the momentum of the game. But then redshirt junior forward Luke Morgan found the puck in the slot in front of Lethemon, and Slaker saw an opportunity.
He slid down to the far post and yelled for the puck. Morgan slid it across, and Slaker’s quick wrister just beat a sprawling Lethemon.
“(Freshman forward Nick Granowicz) and Morgs were working so hard,” Slaker said. “I saw Morgs kinda get the puck and I was screaming at him as loud as I could (on the) backdoor. He threw the puck to me and luckily, it just went in for me.”
The goal extended Slaker’s streak of multi-point games to three and gave him his third two-goal game of the season. Since the Great Lakes Invitational in late December, Slaker has nine goals in 11 games — though he didn’t score until Nov. 23 and tallied just three goals in the first half of the season. After suffering an upper body injury against Western Michigan on Oct. 25 — the fifth game of the season — Slaker missed the next three games.
It took him some time to get his feet back under him, and the injury continued to nag at him for another few weeks once he came back. A two-week break at Christmas helped solidify the healing, and once the second half of the season started, Slaker took off.
“I think going into the break, maybe a few games before that, I started feeling that I was starting to get into the stride of the season,” Slaker said. “I think going into Christmas break, getting some rest and coming back fresh was really important for me.”
Added Michigan coach Mel Pearson: “He’s healthy. The first half of the year, he was not healthy, and when you have these nagging injuries, he missed a number of games. But he knows how to score. He’s a gamer, like a number of our guys. But he’s a senior, too, and he wants to have his best year and he’s doing a heck of a job.”
Slaker’s current best season with the Wolverines came in his sophomore year, when he scored 27 points in 40 games. This year, he’s got 23 through 26 games and has at least one point in 12 of Michigan’s last 15 games.
As the Wolverines push into the last few games of the regular season, contributions from seniors like Slaker have been key in getting Michigan back in the win column after a rough first half. Pearson has spent most of the year talking about how the Wolverines need their seniors to contribute, and Slaker’s success has clearly been crucial in Michigan’s recent run.
His two goals in Friday’s 5-1 win are just the most recent demonstration.
“I’m just playing with confidence right now, trying to do the little things,” Slaker said. “Just play well defensively, do all the little things, play physical and I’ll get my chances. Lately, they’ve been coming to me, and I’m just trying to take advantage of it.”