Sports

Hurricanes’ Slavin unfazed by acclaim, fawning in playoffs

Jaccob Slavin is aware that more people suddenly are saying a lot more nice things about him.

As the Carolina Hurricanes have won playoff games and made their way to the Eastern Conference finals, much fawning and praise has been heaped on the defenseman. More interview requests have come. His name has been mentioned on NHL Tonight, NBC Sports, TSN and Hockey Night in Canada, used in the same sentence with Bobby Orr. Even Don Cherry might know of him.

“I’ve said you make a name for yourself in the playoffs and that people don’t really notice you until you’re in the playoffs,” Canes captain Justin Williams said Tuesday. “Obviously the every-day-ers do, but on the national stage he’s getting a lot of attention and very well-deserved. He’s played phenomenal.”

A crush of media acclaim can be a bit unsettling for some athletes, but not for Slavin. A man of strong faith, he remains as unfazed and unflappable off the ice as he is on it, with a strong sense of purpose.

“At the end of the day I’ve got to go out and do what I’ve got to do, right?” Slavin said Tuesday. “I’ve got to play for the team. And you know how I stand, I want to go out there and glorify God with everything I have. That hasn’t changed.

“Other people’s opinions or what they are saying, it doesn’t matter. It’s not where I find my identity.”

What has changed his identity has been becoming a father. Slavin and his wife, Kylie, have adopted a baby girl, their first child.

Talk about a busy time. The Canes have opened two playoff series on the road, and in the Washington Capitals series took two extra trips to D.C. for Games 5 and 7 before going straight to New York for two games against the Islanders. The Eastern finals against the Boston Bruins will bring more time away from home for the first two games.

“Obviously family is way more important than hockey is but I’ve still got a job to do and it’s a job I love to do,” Slavin said. “My wife has been real supportive and taking the heavy load of night-time feedings and stuff. She’s been a rock star with everything.

“But I love it. It’s definitely a blessing from God. She’s a beautiful little girl.”

Slavin, who turned 25 on May 1, said he has made good use of FaceTime to stay in touch when he’s away. And the few extra days in Raleigh after the Islanders series sweep has allowed him to be at home with the baby.

“She’s getting a lot of Dad time, so it’s been fun,” Slavin said, smiling.

Slavin has gotten a lot of air time for his hockey. He has 11 assists in the 11 playoff games, leading the Canes in points and ranking second in assists among defensemen in the playoffs. (San Jose’s Erik Karlsson has 12 assists in 13 games.) Slavin’s 26:36 of ice time per game ranks fifth.

Slavin, asked to assess his play in the playoffs, said he has played “pretty well.” His point total, he said, wouldn’t be that high if his teammates weren’t scoring, adding, “I’ll give all the credit to the guys.”

One playoff highlight was Slavin’s stretch pass to spring Jordan Staal in the third period of Game 7 against the Caps. It was a sharp pass, Staal scoring on a shot from the right circle to tie the score 3-3, and the Canes won 4-3 in double overtime.

Slavin’s stickwork, skating, hand-eye coordination and defensive positioning have been eye-opening for many who have not seen him play very much in his four NHL season,, the kind of recognition that only comes in a long playoff run.

“My stick has been pretty active, which is my game, and making sure we’re shutting it down in the D zone,” he said, which is about as much self-praise as he will offer.

The Bruins series, which begins Thursday in Boston, will be much like that against the Capitals, the 2018 Stanley Cup champs. Patrice Bergeron’s line, with wingers Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, might be the most potent in the playoffs. That trio has combined for 16 goals in 13 playoff games.

Slavin will be matched up against Bergeron’s line at times, as will the defensive pair of Brett Pesce and Justin Faulk.

“It’s going to be a grind all series and it’s going to be pretty physical, but I think it’s going to be a good series,” Slavin said.

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In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.
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