There are few things more nonsensical than the online reaction whenever EA Sports releases the cover athlete of their upcoming NHL-branded hockey game. No one, well almost no one, is ever happy with who they pick whether it’s the best player in the game in Auston Matthews (NHL 22 and 20) or Connor McDavid (NHL 18), a legend in Alex Ovechkin (NHL 21), or a young star like Vladimir Tarasenko (NHL 17). Well, give EA Sports credit for this year’s choice as they went with not one, but two, hockey players - both of them being a bit of a surprise:
That’s Anaheim Ducks rookie Trevor Zegras (in shorts) and Team Canada forward Sarah Nurse. Also, two random palm trees thrown in there to make the “hockey should only be played where it snows” crowd’s eyes twitch a little more.
It’s just a cover, who cares right? Well, it seems there are some hockey fans and some gamers that are quite perturbed. Just type “NHL 23” into the ol’ Twitter search box and scroll through the comments. Actually, you know what, don’t do that. That’s never a good idea. Just take my word for it that some folks think that this is the worst thing to ever happen to hockey, hockey video games, maybe even the world.
One of my favorite talking points that emerges from this act every year is the player who was “snubbed”. This year, the consensus seems to be that Cale Makar should have been on the cover. Granted, the Colorado Avalanche defender had a heck of a year and would have been a good choice, but personally I see where EA Sports is going with putting Zegras on the cover.
Like it or not, there were a ton of non-hockey fans who knew his name last season when his Michigan flip pass (yes it’s mentioned in the press release) made the rounds on social media, ESPN, TSN, and various other media outlets.
The kid has a big personality and that attracts people who may be more of a casual sports fan. So who cares if he isn’t the best player in the game? Quite frankly two of the best players of the past generations, McDavid and Sidney Crosby, have the marketing charisma of a manila envelope.
EA Sports already knows hockey fans are already going to buy the game, so they’re appealing to the market that might be on the bubble. Perhaps some kids who saw the flip pass and know that they can recreate it in the game, buy the game and that becomes their gateway into the game. Far-fetched? Not really. I wasn’t a big Premier League fan until I started playing the FIFA series games back in the early 2000s (I was drawn to Liverpool because of the way the announcer pronounced Djibril Cisse’s name when he had the ball - “CEEEEE-SAAAYY”). Now, even though I don’t play the games any more, I’m up early on a Saturday or Sunday morning to watch the games.
As for having Nurse, the first women’s player to be on the cover, join him? Again, they’re appealing to a new demographic, one that may not have purchased a hockey video game in the past due to a lack of representation. Starting in the NHL 22 version, EA Sports incorporated rosters for women’s IIHF international teams. With female viewership up a reported 61% in the 2021-22 season why wouldn’t the number one hockey video game want to draw in that market? Nurse, who has won gold medals for Team Canada at the Olympics (2022), World Championships (2021), and World U18 Championships (2013) has earned the honor.
As far as I can tell, it’s the first time since NHL 96 (Steve Yzerman and Scott Stevens) that two players have appeared on the cover. That was kind of the norm in the early years of the series as the cover often featured an action shot with a forward and goaltender before pivoting to the solo athlete in the early 2000s. In case you were wondering, the last version that featured a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning was NHL 12, with Steven Stamkos. Prior to that it was NHL 06 with Vincent Lecavalier receiving the honors.
Lightning / NHL News
Scouching breaks down the Lightning’s 2022 draft
Wysh talks with both players about their first-time honors as video game cover athletes
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