Canes Now

That ‘Cradle to Caniac’ player gazing at the baby? Who is that guy?

Carolina Hurricanes fans know the face. They’ve seen it smushed against the glass at PNC Arena many a time.

You know the guy. Playing hockey, red Canes jersey, chasing after the puck, checked into the boards, face pressed to the glass, grimacing and ... then smiling as he sees his newborn baby, with Canes cap and blanket, on the other side of the glass.

“From cradle to Caniac ...”

The UNC REX Healthcare commercial has been aired on Canes Fox Sports Carolinas telecasts the past couple of years, over and over. Face to glass, grimace, smile, coos, wave at baby.

But who is that guy?

His name is Eric James Morales and he’s an actor who lives in Durham. He’s also a New Jersey native who loves hockey, having played as a kid and later in college.

“They sent out a (casting) call basically saying ‘Does anyone know how to play hockey?’ and they were looking for somebody to do the commercial, and I chimed in,” he said in a recent N&O interview.

Morales, 48, said he grew up in Budd Lake, New Jersey, in the northwest part of the state about 50 miles from New York City. He said he played wing in high school and then center at the County College of Morris in Randolph, N.J.

“It’s a small Division III school and we played a lot of the Upstate New York colleges and some in Connecticut and Rhode Island,” he said.

Since moving to Durham in 1995, Morales said he has been to Hurricanes games, almost grudgingly conceding it might have been to see another team when they’re in town.

“Sad to say I’m a diehard Rangers fan,” he said. “But the games are fun, regardless.”

As was being dressed out in a Canes sweater and in an NHL arena. Morales said the production crew had the rink from 8 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. before finishing the shot at UNC Rex Healthcare.

“The whole morning was so awesome,” he said. “It was just me and other guy and we had the whole sheet of ice. Between takes we were kind of monkeying around. What an experience. It really gives you a taste of being a player, a little bit, and feeling what it’s like to move that quickly. To see the stands and Jumbotron above you, it was super cool.”

Walk West, a Raleigh digital marketing agency, produced the ad and hired Morales through Talent One, his talent agency. Morales, who has appeared in several local theater productions, said he has been recognized a few times with a “Hey, aren’t you the guy ...?” line since the “Cradle to Caniac” ad first began to appear.

“As the official health care provider of the Carolina Hurricanes, UNC REX wanted a clever way to remind hockey fans that we care for patients of all ages,” UNC REX spokesman Alan Wolf said. “That includes bringing thousands of babies into the world every year. We aimed to create a spot that’s memorable and funny, with the new ‘father’ getting smashed into the glass while gazing adoringly at his new child. We’re thrilled that the ad continues to resonate with Caniacs.”

For the record, the baby was not Morales’. He said he is married and has a son, Ian, who is almost 4 years old.

Unlike many Canes fans, Morales said he has seen the commercial just once.

“On YouTube,” he said. “I’ve never seen it on TV.”

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.