RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes have been rolling at home ever since their newly acquired grunter named Hamilton started hogging the corner.
Not defenseman Dougie Hamilton — Hamilton the pig.
The 90-pound Juliana potbelly who catches games from behind the boards in a personalized wagon has shown plenty of chops during his three-week run as the team’s unofficial good-luck charm.
In the land of pulled pork barbecue, this pig pulls for the Hurricanes.
“He’s like this little internet sensation that caught on,” said his owner, Raleigh real estate broker Kyle Eckenrode. “People just love it when we bring him out. It’s really crazy to watch it all unfold.”
The Hurricanes can’t argue with the results: Ever since Hamilton began hanging out in the area behind PNC Arena’s corner boards — right along the players’ path from the dressing room to the ice — earlier this postseason, they hadn’t lost with their prized pig in the building until Tuesday’s 2-1 Game 3 loss to Boston.
“I guess I’d never seen anything like it,” well-traveled goalie Curtis McElhinney said.
On a whim, Eckenrode brought Hamilton — whose name is a play on “ham” — to the parking lot for Game 3 of the first-round series against Washington. He became so popular that the team invited him into the arena for the Game 6 victory over the Capitals, as well as Carolina’s two home games in the second-round series with the Islanders.
And Hamilton was set to be back in his customary spot for Thursday’s Game 4 amid hopes the Hurricanes can rally from two games down in the best-of-seven series.
He will make his rounds at the pregame tailgate parties that became a signature of this region during the team’s run to the Stanley Cup in 2006. He’ll fill up countless Instagram feeds while posing for photos with dozens of fans — many of whom no doubt will wear the T-shirts that carry Don Cherry’s “Bunch of Jerks” insult-turned-rallying cry.
It’s all come together in a phenomenon that’s uniquely North Carolinian.
Let the Detroit Red Wings have their octopi, and the Nashville Predators their catfish.
The Hurricanes have this.
“It’s been a lot of fun so far, and I think the biggest thing is, you see the city’s kind of come together and the fans, and everyone’s been so involved and that makes a lot of fun too,” said Hamilton — the player, not the pig. “Just seeing what we’re doing for the whole city and kind of everyone’s coming together to share it.”
Well, maybe not everyone — at least, not Cherry.
The curmudgeonly commentator earlier this season called the Hurricanes “a bunch of jerks” for their choreographed Storm Surge celebrations on the ice after regular-season home victories. After Carolina’s marketing department started selling $32 shirts with the three-word jab in the team store, he doubled down on the criticism. He called Carolina fans “front-running” and argued the players “know it’s the wrong thing to do or else they’d do it in the playoffs.”
So, naturally, the Hurricanes quickly announced plans to sell more shirts with “front-running” written in script over the “Bunch of Jerks” phrase.
“It fuels our fan base, it fuels us,” defenseman Brett Pesce said. “So in a way, I kind of want to say he’s helping us.”
Not that they needed much of it during the first two rounds.
They won four of the final five games to oust the Capitals — advancing on Brock McGinn’s double-overtime goal in Game 7 — before sweeping the Islanders in the second round.
Fans in this nontraditional market have responded. Carolina has drawn the two largest home crowds in club history during this playoff run, bringing in 19,202 for Game 4 against Washington and topping that with 19,495 people — and one pig — in the series clincher against the Islanders.
“I think they just want to see us have success, and as long as we’re winning, they’re going to show up,” McElhinney said. “Lately, we’ve been doing that, the second half of the year here, we’ve been pretty good and they keep coming out. So I don’t know, as long as we’re winning, they’re all in on it. They’re loud in there and they’re having fun and we’re having fun.”