NHL'ers say the darndest things, part 3 · 12 September 2008, 08:00
The piece that ran in the Globe & Mail on Thursday was an edited version of a longer article that I filed. The edit was a good one, but left some of the sports-related questions I asked on the cutting room floor. Here is the original version of the article, hockey questions intact.
I’ll still run the full Q&As later on.
NHLers day the darndest things
Quips from EA’s NHL 09 launch
The hockey season started this week. Not the official National Hockey League schedule, that doesn’t kick into gear until Oct. 4, but the new season for hockey fans started on Tuesday, Sept. 9 with the release of Electronic Arts’ NHL 09.
EA staged a press event to celebrate the day, with media gathering at Burnaby 8-Rinks, just a few clicks from the EA Canada campus. Calgary Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf, whose likeness is on copies of the game released in North America, was the star of the show. A longtime fan of EA’s hockey sim, Phaneuf was clearly having fun being the cover boy.
Joining Phaneuf were Drew Doughty (D, Los Angeles Kings), Josh Harding (G, Minnesota Wild), Patrick O’Sullivan (C, Los Angeles Kings), Corey Perry (RW, Anaheim Ducks), and Jeremy Roenick (C, San Jose Sharks).
The six hockey players were not only in Burnaby to fete media, but also to don the black spandex outfits so EA producers could begin gathering motion-capture footage for next year’s edition of the game. (As a side note, EA producers should take my advice and call next year’s game NHL 2010. NHL 10 just doesn’t work.)
A few Vancouver Canucks players were in the facility playing shinny on another sheet of ice. I didn’t see whether they came by to say hello to their conference comrades.
EA Sports press events are always interesting because the blend of video-game and sports journalists is a bit like the last time I rode the Whistler chair lift with a tourist from Japan. We just didn’t speak the same language.
The NHLers make the most of the attention, one moment being asked about their chances in the upcoming season, and a few minutes later being asked whether they prefer Mario or Sonic.
But because I can distinguish between an FPS and a RTS and I know how to differentiate between charging and boarding, I asked questions that were like how Tim Robbins’ Nuke LaLoosh had sex in Bull Durham: “Well, he fucks like he pitches – sorta all over the place.” The six hockey players largely played along, although Phaneuf seemed to take my questions a little too seriously. Maybe I should have smiled a bit more when talking with him.
All six admitted to having played video games, although Perry said he didn’t have time to play very often. Doughty was the youngest of the bunch – he was drafted second overall by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft – and said that his junior team, Guelph Storm, had gaming consoles in their home dressing room.
They had all played EA’s hockey game and considered NHL 08 to be their most-played title. For some reason, the tendency of hockey players to play golf in their off-season carries to their off-ice digital entertainmen, too. Four of the six said that Tiger Woods PGA Tour was one of their favourites.
Phaneuf could actually be described as a hardcore gamer. He said he liked playing shooters and war games in addition to the sports titles.
As for Roenick, who was drafted into the NHL the year before Doughty was born – 1988 – admitted that his 11-year-old son “kicks my ass” when playing video games. “Us old fellas are used to Asteroids and Space Invaders and the original Atari,” he said. Roenick allows his son to play Grand Theft Auto, “but I make him play it on mute. That’s the rule.”
When I asked which of the NHL teams most improved their roster during the off-season, Tampa Bay was the refrain. Roenick said that they did the most to try to improve their team, but he’s not sure if they did.
O’Sullivan said he was interested in seeing whether that many different players could come together. He also invoked Detroit’s signing of Marian Hossa. “Not like they needed help,” said O’Sullivan. “It’s almost not even fair.”
Harding agreed that it’s tough not to put your money on the Red Wings, but also reminded me that in the modern NHL, “everybody can beat everybody.”
When asked whether any player in the league was worth $10 million a year, most of the players said that figure was just fine if that’s what the market was paying. Phaneuf, who took issue with my even asking the question, said that with the salary cap going up, salaries will go up.
Roenick, who has a well-deserved reputation for having an opinion and for sharing it, did not disappoint. “No, not in my opinion,” he said when asked about the $10 million per year salary, the amount the Vancouver Canucks offered to free-agent Mats Sundin. “It takes away from a team’s ability to sign other players to fill out a roster,” said Roenick. “If a guy wants to make $10 million and come in tenth in the league, go for it.”
O’Sullivan doubts whether Sundin will even play in the NHL this year. “He’s obviously not interested in the money,” he said. “I don’t think he’s interested in playing.”
Then I asked whether national anthems were still necessary before NHL games. Roenick said it was nice to have them, but, “Is it important? It’s a debate.” The other five, though, like the Canadian and U.S. anthems before the puck drop. “It shows respect for the country you’re playing in,” said Phaneuf. Doughty said he takes great price in hearing the Canadian anthem and Harding said that hearing anthems “reminds you of where you come from.”
When I suggest that the growing number of European players in the league never hear their national anthem, O’Sullivan shrugged me off. “If they want to hear their country’s anthem they can play in Europe,” he suggested. The Kings center also said that for players who have won international games, hearing the anthem means something more. In international competition, like at the Olympic Games, the winning team’s anthem is played at the end of the game.
Asking the NHLers which superhero would make the best hockey player caused some raised eyebrows. Phaneuf just said, “Next question.” Harding name checked Will Smith in saying that Hancock would be good on the ice and Doughty figured that Batman and his gadgets would be sure to put some pucks in the net. O’Sullivan thought that Superman would be a pretty good athlete.
Perry, the most stoic of the six, rewarded me with an uncharacteristic half-smile when I asked the question. “Superman can do it all,” he mused. “He pushes trains.”
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