2K Sports will release Wii-exclusive 'NHL 2K11' two weeks early, on August 24

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nhl2k11kesler.jpgIn case you haven’t heard, Electronic Arts’ NHL series dominance over 2K Sports’ own NHL 2K games reached so far that 2K’s upcoming “NHL 2K11” will only appear on Nintendo’s Wii console. In many ways, it seemed like a move inspired by the fact that EA never made a hockey game for the Wii before; perhaps 2K Sports thought it could have a “monopoly” on polygonal pucks on the best-selling “next generation” console?

If that was the strategy, it backfired because EA is planning on launching a Wii-exclusive called “NHL Slapshot.” They’re rolling in guns blazing, too, with Wayne Gretzky as the cover star and a mini-hockey stick controller that could turn some heads if it works well. (Click here for more on the upcoming game.)

Perhaps 2K is concerned about “NHL Slapshot” because Operation Sports reports that “NHL 2K11” will be released on August 24, a week or two earlier than the traditional early September window for hockey video games. While release dates are often subject to change, it seemed like the original plan was to release 2K11 on September 7, the same release date as EA’s Slapshot. (NHL ’11 is also rumored to come out on September 7.)

While it might be wise for 2K to try to get a leg up on EA’s foray onto the Wii, I can’t help but sense a little desperation on their part, too. You have to wonder if the company’s hockey titles are in danger of going extinct, much like their NFL2K games (although this time it would be because EA is clobbering them in the quality and sales department instead of just signing an exclusive licensing agreement, like they did with their football games.)

ESPN’s Jon Robinson interviewed Ben Bishop of 2K Sports regarding the changes gamers should expect to see from 2K10 to 2K11.

Ben Bishop: There are the Wii Motion Plus controls, but it’s not just that, I think the controls changed a lot in general. You have a lot more options, and with the Wii Motion Plus control, you have direct one-to-one control over everything from stick lifts to actually lifting the puck up, juggling it, and performing trick shots. And if you’re a fan of the game from the 360 or PS3, you can actually play the game using classic controls and play the game the way you’re accustomed to. So you have a lot of options to really treat this as a simulation game if you want to. We think there is plenty of room on the Wii to have a good simulation sport, so you can play the game on the Wii as you would on the other consoles.

On the flip side of the coin is our Road to the Cup mode and how we let you bring your Mii characters into the game and let them play through some mini-games that are all hockey based. This is something that is popular on the Wii, and it’s a great thing to do when you have some buddies over. It’s something you can play through pretty quick and you don’t have to be great at the sport of hockey or at the simulation aspect to have a good time with it.

One other tidbit Bishop shared is that Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin will be the three highest rated players in the game. It’s far from surprising, but for people who might be a bit obsessed with that sort of thing, there you go.

Will a two week sales head start help 2K Sports stick with EA’s splashy debut on Nintendo’s system? We’ll just have to wait and see about that.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.