- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
The Carolina Hurricanes trolled the Montreal Canadiens with a satirical website after defeating them on Thursday night, only to have that site hacked and turned into an anti-Carolina web page by Friday morning.
After the Hurricanes beat the Canadiens in Montreal, the team sent out a website link to its 506,000 followers on Twitter: DidTheHabsLose.com.
The site featured a banner photo with the word “YES” in bold letters. Underneath were two links to buy two Hurricanes player T-shirts: One for center Sebastian Aho, whom the Canadiens unsuccessfully attempted to sign away from Carolina with a free-agent offer sheet in 2019; and one for forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi, whom the Hurricanes poached from Montreal via an offer sheet last offseason. The shirts were on sale for $20 — which is Aho’s number and Kotkaniemi’s signing bonus — for anyone using the promo code “oui.”
It was an extraordinary bit of postgame gloating and NHL social media trolling, and one that managed to make the Hurricanes some profit in the process.
“It’s literally our jobs: To entertain and drive revenue. That did both of those things,” Mike Forman, vice president of marketing and brand strategy for the Hurricanes, told ESPN on Friday. “If you’re a Montreal Canadiens fan, it probably rubbed you the wrong way. But we’re not building our marketing plan around Canadiens fans or Canadian media, for that matter. We’re building it for our fans.”
Forman said the planning for this stunt started three weeks ago at a weekly meeting that included Dan LaTorraca, the team’s senior director of marketing.
“We come up with a lot of ideas. Most never see the light of day,” said Forman. “We decided to reserve a few URLs. Obviously, if we lose a game, we aren’t going to do anything with them.”
The Hurricanes reserved domains for four teams to do the same bit they did with the Canadiens. One of those teams is the Washington Capitals. Another is the Carolina Hurricanes themselves, to cover their bases and be a little self-deprecating.
“It won’t be any secret. It’ll be the teams we had some social media fun with over the last few years,” Forman said.
There was discussion about buying URLs for all 32 NHL teams.
“We thought about it. But we’re not actual jerks. We’re the figurative jerks. Our philosophy is that we won’t throw a first punch. But we’ll throw the second punch and we’re going to try for it to be a knockout,” said Forman, referencing the “Bunch of Jerks” nickname that former “Hockey Night in Canada” commentator Don Cherry gave the team.
The first deployment of the website trolling was a hit. But then an unexpected incident ended the fun early: DidTheHabsLose.com was hacked overnight and transformed into an anti-Hurricanes website. Carolina owner Tom Dundon called Forman on Friday morning to ask him if was an actual hack or if the marketing team had put that up there as part of the bit.
“No, we were actually hacked,” said Forman, laughing. “Honestly, it’s just gaining more traction because of it.”
The team is debating what to do with the hacked website.
“We may have fun with it, or we may talk with our IT team to get it corrected. Either way, we’ll do something,” said Forman.
While brief, the experiment was a success. The Hurricanes once again got the attention of the hockey world with a social media stunt and moved some merchandise in the process. Helping matters was the fact that Aho and Kotkaniemi both scored goals in the victory over Montreal.
“The fact that we could drive any revenue on a random Thursday night is a good win for us,” said Forman. “This is our brand. We’re big and bold. We know we’re going to rub a lot of people the wrong way, but we’re also going to entertain people — especially our fans.”
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