LAPEER (WJRT) (02/16/18)--It's the big buzz among kids in the Lapeer County Hockey Association. Lapeer native Jim Slater, a former Michigan State Spartan and NHL star, is in the middle of his quest for an Olympic medal.
"They're talking about Slater and saying how cool, right? A small town guy. We can make it. That can be us some day, guys," said LCHA President Scott Burny.
Dozens of kids were on the ice at Lapeer's Polar Palace, early Friday morning. That's after many of them stayed up late watching Slater and Team USA beat Slovakia.
"He inspires me to become a pro and an Olympian," said LCHA player Andrew Burny.
It's not just the boys who are finding inspiration in Slater. The LCHA's brand new girls program is drawing inspiration as well.
"This tells me that I can do it, and I just have to be confident in what I do and I can maybe go there in a couple of years," said LCHA player Ella Dumas.
In fact, coaches have received plenty of calls from parents of prospective players since the games began.
"The girls are all excited and we want to get as many girls out here as we can. We always tell them the hashtag is #GirlsCanPlayToo," said coach Melissa Bruso.
Polar Palace General Manager John Hosking believes Slater's Olympic journey has been a rallying point for both sides of town.
"When I coached Lapeer West, his older brother Billy was playing there, and was a really good hockey player as well. They've just been real active in the community, his dad was an educator here for years to years, and Jim has been a big supporter of the community in a laid back way and always proud that he's from Lapeer. That made everyone around here proud as well," he said.
Regardless of how Team USA fares in the Olympics, the Polar Palace is hoping to throw some sort of hometown celebration for Slater when the games are done.
"If something like were to happen and the opportunity to bring him by here and do something in conjunction with the LCHA and the community, that would be outstanding," said Hosking.