Jaccob Slavin hung his head, tapped his stick blade along the top of the boards and grimaced.
After flipping the puck over the glass from behind his own net, he was in the penalty box in the second period of a game against the Florida Panthers in early March.
"I definitely remember it, and I'm just thankful they didn't score on the power play," Slavin recalled. "I don't take a lot of penalties, so when I'm in there, I don't like it."
It was the one - one! - penalty that Slavin took all season, this from the Carolina Hurricanes' top-pairing defenseman who logged 1195:05 of total time on ice in 52 games, often tasked with shutting down the opposing team's best. He's a critical part of the team's penalty kill, too, and he employs his stick quite a bit, utilizing his long reach to interrupt an odd-man rush, poke the puck away from an opponent or clog up a passing lane.
Video: CBJ@CAR: Slavin slides in front of net to stop shot
Yet, there was just that single, solitary penalty. No obstruction and no stick infractions, despite the fact that he paced the team in average ice time per game.
In recognition of his defensive prowess and keen ability to remain out of the penalty box, Slavin was named the winner of the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy on Saturday night. The award is given annually to "the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability."
That, in 22 words, perfectly describes Slavin the player and Slavin the person.
"It's awesome. I'm honored. Personally, I think it's really cool because I know that it's not by my doing that I'm winning this award. It's by Christ living through me and my life being changed because of Him," Slavin said. "The way I want to live my life, I want to glorify God in everything I do. It speaks to the spirit working in me, what God has called me to do on this earth and to love people how Christ loves them."
Slavin is just the fourth defenseman to ever win the award. Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers was the most recent to do so in 2012. You then have to go all the way back to 1954 - 1954! - to find Red Kelly's name as the next most recent defenseman to win the award.
It's a curious trend that defensemen are so often overlooked for the Lady Byng.
"My best guess is just because typically we're having to try to stop the forwards from scoring, so sometimes penalties just end up happening," Slavin offered. "That's my best guess. I'm not sure why it's that way."
The award itself is somewhat of a nebulous concept. How do you measure "sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability"? The answer seems to fall somewhere on the spectrum of a really good hockey player who doesn't take a lot of penalties. Had Slavin taken a second or third penalty this season? "Well, there goes the Lady Byng," would have been the Twitter-worthy quip - and, strangely, it probably would have been accurate.
So, what's the secret? How is Slavin able to log the quality minutes he does while also avoiding the sin bin?
"I just try to put myself in good positions where I don't have to be reaching or lunging, and being able to skate well helps. I try to get myself in those positions and make sure my angles are good," he said. "It's just knowing my game and trying to set myself up for the best success I could have."
Video: CAR@TBL, Gm4: Slavin wires sharp-angle goal up high
The penalty box is something he's seemed to have an aversion to for his entire career, dating back to his days in youth hockey.
"Even when I was a kid, I hated taking penalties," he laughed. "I hated the feeling of being penalized."
Based on his reaction to the delay of game call on March 7, that feeling hasn't gone away. Thankfully, the two long minutes he spent in the penalty box didn't cost him award consideration. He could have and probably should have been in the conversation for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy in the past, but in his sixth NHL season, Slavin was finally recognized among the league's elite and most gentlemanly. It's tangible validation for not only him but also for the success the Canes had in the 2020-21 season.
"We all wish we had a better ending," Slavin said. "You could say a lot of guys in our room could have been nominated for the Lady Byng, as well, because we have such great character guys and players in our locker room."