The signature hockey video game NHL 11 is out this week, as Mike Chen at From The Rink has detailed. [Check out MTBVibe's FanPost reviewing the game.] I actually haven't bought one of these since either NHL 04 or 05 (can't remember what I played during the lockout), but hearing about the game's evolution today still gets me thinking, "Maybe I'll pick that up again" -- which is like a recovered addict saying, "Maybe I'll fall off the wagon again." There was a time, boy, that game series ruled my thoughts. This post is a mini-confessional about those days, and an invitation for you to share how you played it then -- and now
From about 1993 through the turn of the millennium, I guided the New York islanders to the Stanley Cup finals countless times -- where they inevitably faced the Blues, once the EA Sports NHL 9x game allowed you to guide two teams in the same season.
Beyond that bit of orchestrated fantasy, though, I tried to stick to the "real world": I would sit guys when they had real-life long-term injuries. I'd roll four lines. I'd put Claude Lapointe on the PK, even though in the video game he was slow and ineffective in that role. Once the game allowed trades, I made every trade that happened in the NHL. I spent the first few minutes with each year's game updating all of the summer free agents and even the minor moves from the season-opening waiver draft. Which means, through gritted teeth, I made all the trades Maloney and Milbury made (well, the ones that the computer didn't find so asinine as to reject them), cursing the entire time, praying the data load didn't crash the memory on those early versions of the game.
Aside from my brilliant coaching prowess in spite of the mad GM controlling my roster, there was one other area where fiction reigned: Once the game introduced the create-a-player feature, I created the hell out of every Islanders rookie. If Kirill Petrov somehow joined the Islanders this year, I can only imagine what kind of Ovechkin-esque force I'd create him to be in the EA world. (I understand they have roster updates now, but I'm old school.) 'Cause my record of realism on that front isn't pretty.
A short list of sudden "all-stars" I created who somehow never lived up to that form in real life includes:
- Tommy Salo, who earned shutouts in about half the games his rookie year for me;
- Roberto Luongo, who easily did the same and had the highest-rated glove in the game;
- Eric Fichaud ... who also did the same (I know, shameless);
- Jorgen Jonsson, who became an instant 35-goal scorer for me because I gave him all the same skill ratings as his brother. He was a two-way dynamo ... you know, like the Frans in my head today.
- Brett Lindros, who destroyed everything in his path and piled up goals and fights because I ... gave him all the same skill ratings as his brother (This didn't last long though, as I sat him every time he was on the shelf in the real world).
It's funny, at first when they started putting the player's name as well as his number next to his icon on the ice, the players you created would look different because their name was in all caps. So every time Jorgen Jonsson got the puck, it would show JONSSON like a bright flashing reminder from the computer telling me, "Hey, cheater, we know this guy ain't as good as you say, but if you can feel at peace with yourself having Jorgen JONSSON score 40 goals, you go right ahead."
When Fiction Mirrored Reality
While my fondest memories are of the early days when Hogue-Turgeon-Thomas dominated that game, there was something special about 2001-02: While i was guiding the Islanders to my traditional dominant start to that season, the real-world Islanders were actually following suit. Normally I'd feel a tinge of "Oh come on" guilt about making Milbury's Isles start the year undefeated in 10, but in this case they really were, opening that year 9-0-1-1 and 11-1-1-1.
This brief moment of life-imitates-fantasy continued the next year: After liking Trent Hunter in the playoffs, I created him the following year to be a power forward force -- and wouldn't you know it? He scored 25 goals in real life, too.
Hunter was my last manufactured reality with that game though. After about 2002 I played this game less and less, though I still found time to "create" Radek Martinek into a Czech god. Coming out of the lockout I did still play (an old version) here and there, and I even created rookie blueliners Bruno Gervais and Chris Campoli, but I was far more realistic about their skills and far less dedicated to completing seasons.
* * *
That's my EA story. Since the game inevitably comes up in comments time and again -- mikb were just reminiscing about the Turgeon-Hogue combo in that game -- I figured this would be a chance for everyone to share theirs. Got any stories? Any crazy seasons? Any created players you turned into Gretzky-beating machines?