The pregame nap is one of the most sacrosanct rituals for hockey players. Disturb a player at your peril, and doubly so if that player is a goaltender.
But for a suddenly large contingent in the Carolina Hurricanes locker room, someone else’s nap is now the key concern, on gameday or any other day.
No fewer than five Hurricanes players have welcomed a new addition to their family in the past year. Three of them, Jaccob Slavin, Jake Gardiner and Jordan Martinook, are first-time dads; Jordan Staal just welcomed his fourth; and James Reimer has a pair of his own. There’s already plenty of juggling - time, family commitments, team commitments, travel - inherent in being a professional hockey player. Add a newborn to the mix, and it becomes even crazier.
For Gardiner, whose son, Henry, turned one at the end of September, there was even more zaniness than usual, considering the time-crunched move to a new city. The Gardiners made the move around opening night - “it was stressful,” he says - and for anyone who has ever moved with a toddler or preschooler in tow, you can certainly sympathize with the Gardiners’ predicament, although the whole “playing a professional sport” thing adds another layer of complexity.
But this being 2019, Henry Gardiner played a key role in announcing to the world via social media where his dad was headed to continue his career.
Reimer’s kids were both born in Florida, where he spent three seasons with the Panthers. Unlike Gardiner, his move to Raleigh had an added component, not just because they were moving two kids, but also because managing toddlers requires some additional planning. “Honestly, I think that’s the toughest part. I think with an infant it’s easier, because you just throw them in a seat and they sleep anywhere. When you have a toddler, it’s harder because they may be more ornery, you’re sleeping in hotel beds, they don’t want to go down and what not. You have to plan a little more because you’re moving around more.”
Slavin’s daughter, Emersyn, was born during the Canes’ first round series against the Capitals in April, and it led to a head-spinning amount of logistics to manage: flights back and forth, skipped off-day skates, catching a few winks of sleep wherever he can. Now that Emersyn is six months old and sleeping through the night, Slavin’s life has calmed down considerably from those chaotic first few weeks.
“She popped her first tooth the other day, a couple more on the top are coming in, she’s doing great,” Slavin says proudly. “I honestly feel like we have a really easy baby. The only time she’s a little bit fussy is if she’s hungry, then you hear about it.”
Each of the new dads talks in reverent terms about how much they rely on their wives to do a lot of the heavy lifting, although Martinook joked last season that he would be on the clock pretty much the entire summer. (Or, to hear Reimer tell it, the secret is simple: “Have a superwoman for a wife, that’s the first thing, and the second thing is have an amazing wife, and the third is that again.”) But Gardiner admits that, while the game days typically aren’t much different, the off days have a different vibe to them. “You don’t sit on the couch as much, and you’re watching a one-year-old cruise around the apartment.”
Slavin is more pragmatic. “Honestly, now that the season is started, her sleeping through the night is what makes it work.”
Reimer says that, with the benefit of having gone through it once already, the routine becomes more tolerable as time goes by. “The panic level is way less. You’re not as fired up about little details as you were with the first one. But having said that, you still made a lot of mistakes with the first one, and you make a lot with the second, but probably a little less.”
When asked what has surprised them the most about parenthood, the players show just how much becoming a dad means to them. “Loving somebody like that, you can’t really describe until you have a kid yourself,” Gardiner says. “He changes every day. It’s been great for my wife and [me], and for both of our parents too.”
And there are always plenty of smiles from both sides when the kids show up, usually way past their bedtimes, to watch their dads at work. From what the dads say, the kids are going to be introduced to the ice sooner rather than later.
“Probably [in] a few months, just to try it out,” says Gardiner.
“As soon as she can walk,” Slavin echoes.
But Reimer isn’t so sure about starting early. His older daughter, who will turn 3 in a few months, hasn’t started yet. “I think the golden age is 3,” he chuckles.
And when asked what he’s learned about being a parent, Gardiner relays a real they’re-just-like-us moment that will resonate with every parent anywhere, in any occupation.
“Some of the diapers are a lot grosser than I would have thought. I knew it wasn’t going to be fun, but it’s pretty bad sometimes.”