Jordan Martinook still had a hospital visitor tag on his shirt and a matching band on his left wrist when he sat down for his virtual end-of-season interview.
His wife, Courtney, gave birth to their second child, a daughter, not too long after the season ended this week. Their son, Chase, was born in Raleigh in late January of 2019.
"I've had both my kids here now," he said. "That's a monumental life event. That's something that will always hold Raleigh dear to me."
The same week that his son was born, Martinook inked a two-year, $4 million extension with the Carolina Hurricanes. Now, the 28-year-old forward is approaching unrestricted free agency and an uncertain future in Raleigh, one of a few crucial question marks facing the Canes in what could be a pivotal offseason.
Video: "I can put a little feather in my cap for that."
"I came here three years ago and felt like I was part of the culture change a little bit. I can put a little feather in my cap for that. I feel like there's a group of us who have been here for three years and been the driving force of trying to turn this thing around. I feel like we have," he said. "Willy always used the term 'relevant,' and I think we're there. I want to see it through. I think we're right there. We're so close. If I were to go somewhere else, it'd be tough to see if they were to win here because I feel like I was a big part of it."
In 171 career games with the Canes, Martinook has totaled 21 goals and 30 assists (51 points). He put up career numbers in 2018-19, setting a career high in goals (15) and equaling a career high in points (25). He's chipped in another 10 points (2g, 8a) in 29 playoff games over the last three seasons, as well.
Bringing the energy both on and off the ice - and certainly in the hallway before heading out for warm-ups - Martinook quickly endeared himself as a fan-favorite in Raleigh.
"The fans, I could go on for days and days about them," he said. "Just how involved the fan base here is incredible. I feel like I'm somebody who really energizes with the fans, and I take a lot of pride being able to interact and do my thing with them."
It wasn't just Jordan, either. His dad, "Sparky Marky" Mark, was also a hit.
"They welcomed us with open arms. My dad loved it. I feel like he was the first star at a few of those tailgates," Martinook laughed. "Riding the bull and slapping that pig's butt. He was doing everything."
And then, of course, there's Emma Izzo, a heart-warming story of a friendship between an affable hockey player and a young fan with Down syndrome that has blossomed over the last two years. Fans have since raised thousands of dollars for season tickets for Emma and her family next season, a fundraising effort that has been so successful that it will likely also benefit other families with special needs children.
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"All the people who have donated to that and how they brought her story to light, it's been incredible," Martinook said. "From the bottom of my heart, thank you, Caniacs. I love you guys."
In many ways, Martinook, who has served as an alternate captain since 2019, serves as a direct connection between the Canes and the fanbase. His personality and joie de vivre energize the fans, whose raucous noise and passionate support in turn galvanize Martinook.
It's a symbiotic relationship that sprouted from the very beginning and has only flourished since, but tough decisions mark the road ahead for both Martinook and the Canes as free agency looms.
"At the end of the day, it's obviously a business," he said. "I want to stay here, but I have a family. I just had a baby girl, so I have to look out for myself and my family. I want to be a Hurricane, so hopefully we can make that happen."