After Team USA’s inspired Silver Medal placing in the winter Olympics, I blew the dust off my Closeted NHL Hockey Fandom. I found myself watching the San Jose Sharks play the Jersey Devils on the Vs. Network and listening closely to sports talk radio for any Flyers chitchat. Never a diehard, I followed hockey as a kid best I could (being as though I rarely played it on the street and never in the rink): Sportscenter highlights, insight from diehard hockey buddies, and EA Sports’ yearly NHL Hockey games for Genesis.
Unlike Ice Hockey or Blades of Steel for Nintendo, NHL for Genesis allowed you to create custom teams. The gameplay was fastpaced, realistic (for 16 bit), and amazing. Fighting was vicious. NHL ’96 had a glitch were all you had to do was swoop behind the goalie and you were guaranteed to score. I routinely would drop 15 goals on the Mighty Ducks–there was no Adam Banks or Fulton Reed to save them.
Sharing in my delight for NHL Hockey is Doc Zeus of Not a Blogger. Had we known each other as kids, I’d kill him over steep philosophical differences. I carefully constructed my team like Larry Brown’s illegitimate son: role players, dedicated team-first superstars, rugged enforcers who should’ve been in jail. Zeus indulged in NHL’s freedom blatantly stacking his team with All-Stars. I hated guys who did this. Where’s the strategy, the carefully constructed Powerplay Line, the overlooked young scorer who develops right before your 14 year old non-girlfriend having eyes? Keith Primeau on the third line? Are you kidding me? Why not just put MJ at center and Bo Jackson at goalie to complete the “ProStars” fantasy. I’ll let him explain.
As a life-long Cleveland sports fan, the essence of video game sports is simple. You construct a team that will win your city that elusive sports championship that has escaped it for forty-six years and counting, by any means necessary. That means you cheat. You make ridiculous one-sided trades. You switch teams to sabotage your computer opponent when John Madden wantonly decides your team is not going 82-0. You create monstrous avatars of yourself as a 7’7” quarterback with evolutionary Mike Vick speed, Brett Favre arm strength and Peyton Manning field generalry. You turn the fucking off-sides off. This is war and you don’t have time to obey the rules of fairness and common sense when it comes to bringing home the hardware for your hometown team.
At the time, EA’s NHL Hockey series was a truly revolutionary video game because it was one of the first video games to allow you to make trades, sign and release free agents, and create fantasy players for your teams. Since there was no team based in Cleveland, I adopted the Detroit Red Wings as my team of choice on a combination of the fact that they were already good and because their uniforms were profoundly cool. I then would set the task of constructing a team that was primarily built on NHL All-Stars and create-a-players based on myself and people in my life. Best friends, family members, teenage girls that I had a hopeless crush on were all created to the fill spots on the team that I thought needed it the most. My philosophy was simple. Why would you want to play with the DJ Mbenga’s of professional hockey when you could play with an avatar based on yourself, but an avatar that is a 6’10, 350 pound behemoth with perfect shooting, perfect passing, perfect speed and perfect physicality. Needless to say, I dominated the ranks of the computer hockey and the B.J. Steiner-led Red Wings won multiple Stanley Cups under my supreme leadership.
Here’s a list of the players and teams that my teams was often constructed with:
C – Mario Lemieux – NHL ’94 Mario Lemieux simply was one of the great video game athletes of all-time and was the centerpiece of all my created NHL teams. He was bigger, faster and stronger than nearly everyone on the ice and was the only non-human generated player that was the perfect score of 99 in the game.
RW – Jaromir Jagr – If you were playing with Lemieux in the game then you most assuredly needed his Penguin running mate on your team. Jagr was a beast in the game and he was simply faster than nearly every one of your opponents.
LW – B.J. Steiner – The player based on myself was the perfect specimen of hockey talent. Because I was a narcissistic ten year old (and mostly still am…), I would set my avatar to be perfect in nearly every category you could create.
D – Paul Coffey – Coffey was the only ACTUAL Detroit Red Wing on my first line. He was the defensive anchor of my team and my de-facto team captain. Plus, I was endlessly amused as a kid due to the fact that his name was based on a caffeinated beverage. Obviously, I was borderline retarded.
D – Ray Bourque – Bourque fascinated me for two reasons. The first reason is that he was the best defensemen in the game therefore he obviously needed to be on my time. Secondly, his name was French for “dork.” (I’m only assuming…)
C – Steve Yzerman – Since the Red Wings were actually pretty dominant in the game I kept my second line to consist entirely of actual Detroit Red Wings. You really can’t go wrong with a line that consists of Yzerman, Fedorov and Dino Ciccarelli. They were pretty much all beasts in the game, anyway.
RW – Dino Ciccarrelli
LW – Sergei Fedorov
D – Al Iafrate – Back when I actually payed attention to lame things like the NHL Skills contest, it was once noted that Al Iafrate’s slap shot was clocked at “ludicrous speed” levels of 134 mph. Therefore, I NEEDED to have that ridiculous weapon at my disposal since I was an expert one-time specialist at the game.
D – Zarley Zalapski – I am a sucker for hilarious incongruent, international alliteration.
C – Jeremy Roenick – Anybody knows who has ever watched the 1996 masterpiece of American cinema known as “Swingers” knows that Wayne Gretzky is a bitch and Jeremy Roenick knows how to make that little bitch’s head bleed. Roenick was dominant in the game with the rare combination of speed, skill and bitch slapping ability. You don’t need to turn the offsides off to take Roenick to the Cup.
LW – Gary “Guy” Roberts – I became obsessed with Calgary Flames winger, Gary Roberts, because I mistakenly believed his name was “Guy” for years. Why? Because his name was listed as G. Roberts in the game and I assumed that there couldn’t possibly be a name that started with G other than “Guy.” By the way, it’s pronounced “Guuuuuy” like man not “Geeeee” like I’m French and a douchebag.
RW – Keith Primeau – Primeau, Chiasson, Lidstrom were the only three other Detroit players I kept on the team. Why? Because they were generically good.
D – Steve Chiasson
D – Nicklas Lidstrom
G – Ed Belfour – Belfour was one of the two most dominant goalies in the game. I chose Belfour because he didn’t unnecessarily frenchify his name like Patrick Roy. I have standards.
Philly fans loving using the words “heart” and “passion” when they talk about their athletes. I wouldn’t say Allen Iverson “passionately” crossed over Michael Jordan nor did Chase Utley destroy my Dodgers with postseason homers full of “gritty heart”. Ryan Howard, owner of home run records only shared by Babe Ruth and Jimmy Foxx? He looks like he doesn’t care. Screw him. Philly fans want to relate to their guys on the field. They don’t want to marvel at them for too long.
Mike Schmidt. Randall Cunningham. Charles Barkley. Eric Lindros. Scott Rolen. Donovan McNabb. The problem with these guys is that their greatness largely looked effortless. Philly folks love them some Chase Utley and Allen Iverson, two of the most dominant figures in their respective leagues the past 10 years, yes because they are Hall of Famers, but mainly because “they get dirty”. They slide recklessly or fight for loose balls. They get sweat and blood on their jerseys. It’s illusionist dominance like Superman purposely dressing up as Clark Kent.
The Philadelphia mindset played a big part in my obsession with NHL. I NEVER wanted some pretty boy Euro speed sissy like Sergei Federov on my team. His name already had “gay” in it. Jaromir Jagr had puffier hair than Elaine Benes. Gretzky wore a little kid’s Jofa helmet. The Philadelphia Flyers also thought this way—former GM Bob Clarke resisted speed and finesse for a loooong time. Consequently, the Flyers have not won a Stanley Cup in over 30 years. Like Flyer fans, I wanted guys like Rod Brind’Amour on my team, mixin’ it up, leavin’ all they had out there. Eric Lindros sold tickets and put South Philly mothers and daughters in a tizzy, but John LeClair jerseys flooded the streets. I built my NHL Hockey teams as the walking embodiment of every sports reporters’ romantic Sunday feature: role players finally landing in the right system, superstars sacrificing themselves for the greater good, former big name busts putting all the pieces together and just happy to be part of a winning team. On a sidenote, I really looked forward to watching ESPN’s “Sports Reporters” every Sunday morning at 12-15 years old.
C—Alexei Yashin: And then I went right ahead and grabbed a Euro sissy boy finesse player. He was the exception to my Philly mindset: Yashin was a terror for the Ottawa Senators and became a big money bust in New York like so many others. Bob Clarke would Crypt walk in front of Suge Knight before he EVER tried acquiring a guy like Alexei Yashin.
LW—Keith Tkachuk: Now we’re talking—a big bruising badass physical scorer. If he were a football player, John Madden would fellate Keith Tkachuk. I loved looking at his last name and reveling in the silent “T”—it sounded like an action verb.
RW—Owen Nolan: When you name your son Owen Nolan and he becomes a successful NHL player, as a father you have to feel like you hit the friggin’ jackpot. Owen Nolan was always one of my guys, someone much more sensational in Sega hockey than he ever was in real life.
D—Sandis Ozolinch: Glancing at his name now, I want to call him “Sandwich Ozomatli”. He was the Shannon Sharpe of NHL defensemen: glossy and offensively minded with no real regards to playing physical hockey.
D—Eric Desjardins: My favorite Flyer ever. His last name sparks a George Costanza exchange: “His last name is spelled ‘Des-jar-dins’ but it’s pronounced ‘Day-shar-dan’. Say it with me—‘Day-shar-dan’.” He was the Brian Dawkins of the Flyers—tough as nails, perennialAll-Star, adored by the fans, played through injuries, and never won a title.
C—Doug Gilmour: I felt he was the perfect Buffalo Saber based on my made-up ideas of what people in Buffalo looked for in a hockey god. Speaking of brolic, his nicknames were the “Archduke of Agony” and “Sultan of Silent Suffering”. Chris Berman’s penis just exploded.
LW—Jere Lehtinen: Lethinen won the Frank J. Selke trophy three times, the award for the best defensive forward. This technically made him a two-way forward. Thankfully, Dipset never heard of him.
RW—Dino Ciccarrelli: How could you not root for a guy named Dino? “I can’t believe I shook that guy’s friggin’ hand,”said Dino after Claude Lemeuix turned Kris Draper’s face into Hamburger Helper during the playoffs. Gotta love a guy who tells it like it is.
D—Ulf Samuelsson: I imagined Ulf Samuelsson having dirty blonde hair with a hug biker beard like a damn crazed Norse god. Ulfie was one of those guys you dream of murdering when your team played against him. His nickname was “Robocop”. He ended careers. I’m sure he beats his wife.
D—Roman Hamrlik: Would you ever fuck with a guy named Roman Hamrlik?
C—Valeri Kamensky: Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, and Chris Drury got all the headlines for the Avalanche, but I always preferred Kamensky. The quintessential second banana who mastered his role and always wound up on winning teams. He won 9 Gold Medals for Russia.
LW—Radek Bonk: The NHL should promote itself with guys like Radek Bonk. Seriously, aren’t you just fascinated about a guy with a name like Radek Bonk? BONK! RZA should befriend him for sheer hilarity. I always pictured him as a guy who spoke in subtitles and just grinned like an idiot when he had to play in America.
RW—Ryan Smyth: One of the guys from Boyz II Men wore an Edmonton Oilers jersey in the “Hey Lover” video. It blew my mind that someone from Philly would do that, especially Boyz II Men, who penned “Motown Philly” and went to CAPPA on Broad Street for high school. Ryan Smyth became my favorite Oiler by osmosis.
D–Janne Niinimaa: For years, I challenged myself by trying to correctly spell his name without looking it up. I still fail.
D—Paul Laus: I needed a goon in NHL and went skimming through players via Penalty Minutes. And that’s where I met Paul Laus AKA Freddie Foxxx on skates. He played for the Florida Panthers, owners of the gayest hockey uniforms in the late 90’s and general thorns in the side of the Philadelphia Flyers. Still, if anyone outside of Tie Domi could go Happy Gilmore and chase a guy with a skate, it would be Laus.
G—Arturs Irbe: Nicknamed “Michelin Man” for his dogged ass padding and “The Wall” by the 1,400 hockey fans in San Jose for his net prowess, Irbe was like Kurt Warner. He had phases of getting shit on by one team, then hanging around and leading another team deep into the playoffs a few years later. Plus, his name sounded like a Latin shortstop or middle reliever.
Big thanks to Doc Zeus for chiming in. This was a blast to write. Obviously, his team would destroy mine, though I would hospitalize at least 30% of his roster or at least start an illegal gambling ring with their wives. Make sure in the comments you hit us with your favorite players and lineups for NHL on Genesis!