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Slavin adapting to fatherhood, increased responsibility with Hurricanes

Defenseman balancing growing family, role as alternate captain for undefeated Carolina

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Jaccob Slavin's teammates say fatherhood hasn't changed the Carolina Hurricanes defenseman.

Nor did the spotlight thrust upon him during Carolina's surprising run to the Eastern Conference Final last season.

Maybe that's because the 25-year-old's maturity, down-to-earth personality and strong faith suited him well for both before his adopted daughter Emersyn arrived so dramatically, and coincidentally, at the start of his first foray into the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.

The difficult part for Slavin, other than getting a little less sleep, has been going back to work with the Hurricanes, who are 3-0-0 heading into their game against the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; FS-F, FS-CR, NHL.TV), following an offseason of joyful parenting time with wife, Kylie, and 5-month-old Emersyn.

"I got to be there all summer and now it's a little bittersweet getting back into the season," said Slavin, who has scored two goals in three games, including the game-winner in overtime against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday. "But she's starting to sleep better, so it will be better for the wife when I do have to leave that she's actually getting some sleep, too. So I won't feel as guilty leaving."

Still, Slavin's growing family, which includes Goldendoodles Simba and Lola, provides an important balance to his professional life.

"It definitely continues to put things in perspective for me that hockey isn't the end-all be-all," Slavin said. "I knew that's how it was beforehand, but more so now with a family at home."

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Someday, Jaccob and Kylie will share with Emersyn the exciting story of her birth. The Slavins had been on the adoption waiting list for about a year when Emersyn was born on April 12,  the day after Slavin and the Hurricanes played Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena in Washington.

That was Carolina's first postseason game since 2009, and the first of Slavin's NHL career in his fourth season. Slavin played 25:00 in a 4-2 loss in Game 1, but he had no time to dwell on it.

With an assist from Hurricanes center Jordan Staal, who loaned him some hours he owned on a private jet, Slavin flew back to North Carolina and was at the hospital the following day when Emersyn was born. Slavin also took Carolina owner Tom Dundon up on his offer to use his private jet during the playoffs to help him spend more time with Emersyn without missing any games.

"I did a lot of traveling back and forth in between Washington and where she was born: in DC, where she was born, back to DC, back to home," Slavin said. "She was born during an exciting time. I remember my wife saying, 'Out of all the years the Canes make it back to the playoffs, it has to be this year right when our daughter is being born.'"

Perhaps it was the newly-found "dad strength" Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour joked at the time, but Slavin had a breakout series offensively against the Capitals. He had nine assists, including three in a 4-3 double-overtime win in Game 7 that put the Hurricanes in the second round and eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champions.

"Super impressive, I think," defense partner Dougie Hamilton said. "Traveling wherever he was, sleeping in the hospital, I'm not sure exactly everything he went through. We talked about it a lot, but to be able to have that going on and the playoffs at the same time and playing that well is pretty impressive."

After the Hurricanes swept the New York Islanders in four games in the second round, with Slavin playing a key role in limiting them to two even-strength goals in the series while getting two more assists, his days flying under the radar as one of the better defensemen in the NHL were suddenly over.

Those in Carolina already knew how good Slavin is, which is why the Hurricanes signed him to a seven-year contract extension July 12, 2017 (average annual value of $5.3 million). But playing in the Eastern Conference Final, where the Hurricanes were swept by the Boston Bruins, brought a level of national attention Slavin hadn't experienced before.

"It was a little crazy," Slavin said. "Obviously, that doesn't come without the team success that we were having. So it was fun. I think everyone knows where I stand now, but I'm definitely going to give all credit to God for him giving me the opportunity and the ability to play this game. But it was fine. It doesn't change what I'm going to go out there and try to do every night."

The Hurricanes were happy to see Slavin receive recognition for a change.

"I've known how good he is since before Carolina, just growing up playing against him, so it's no surprise to me," Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce said. "But I am happy he got the credit he definitely deserves."

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Slavin is taking on a bigger role with the Hurricanes this season as one of their alternate captains. With forward Justin Williams, Carolina's captain last season, taking some time away to decide if he wants to continue playing, and Justin Faulk, an alternate captain, traded to the St. Louis Blues, other players will have to step up to fill the leadership void.

Brind'Amour believes Slavin is ready for that responsibility.

"He's a leader on the ice, obviously he logs a ton of minutes, and how he is off the ice, he's a class act," Brind'Amour said. "He's the one guy who lives here year-round. He's part of the community. He's entrenched. So that matters, too. For us it does."

Although not the most outspoken player, Slavin said he welcomes the opportunity to lead in his own way.

"Whether that's with a letter or without a letter, we've got a good group of guys in there and everyone kind of plays their own role in the leadership," he said.

Like with becoming a father, there will be added responsibility. But Slavin seems to be adapting to that quickly.

After Emersyn's adoption became official Aug. 5, he announced it proudly on his Instagram account.

"He's definitely a proud dad," Pesce said. "He's such a good kid. He's so genuine with everybody."

Although careful with their privacy, Slavin said he and Kylie believe it's important to be advocates for adoption. They're just getting started with Emersyn, but they intend to have a big family and another adoption sounds likely.

"I think if it was up to (Kylie), we'll adopt all of our children," Slavin said. "I may want to try biologically to have one, but we'll see how that works out and when we're ready to have our next kid we'll see what the Lord puts on our heart. But it was such a beautiful process and now the relationship we have with the birth mother, it's really something special.

"There's so many children out there that need homes. That's one of the biggest things for my wife. It's a pretty, I don't want to say unique experience, but it really is. It's just a whole different world once you get into the adoption world and the child that God placed in our lives is truly something special."

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