Teenage girl finds herself in NHL 12 after asking EA Sports why its games lacked female players

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While manners-obsessed people might lean toward “Please,” the most important word in a young person’s vocabulary might just be “Why?” As an individual goes from simply absorbing the ideas of friends and family to developing a world view of their own, asking that simple question can often unravel something that once seemed like a great mystery. In one instance, asking why eventually allowed a teenage girl to appear in the most popular hockey video game on the market.

Fourteen-year-old Lexi Peters spent hours playing around with the custom team features in one of EA Sports’ NHL titles, as she hoped to recreate the Purple Eagles (an all-girls team Peters plays for). Unfortunately, the budding hockey fan ran into a significant issue: the games’ player creation options did not include a female character build.

The Buffalo native asked her father why there aren’t any women in the game, which prompted some great advice: why not send EA Sports a letter to find out? Peters did just that.

She sent a typewritten letter to the executives of one the largest video game makers in the world, asking them to add women players.

She wrote: “It is unfair to women and girl hockey players around the world, many of them who play and enjoy your game. I have created a character of myself, except I have to be represented by a male and that’s not fun.”

At first, it seemed like a lost cause, as Peters received a letter from EA saying that it couldn’t happen because such a decision would have to go through the NHL. The buck didn’t stop there, however, as NHL 12’s lead producer David Littman viewed the letter as a “wake-up call” about the game’s growing female audience.

“Lexi’s letter was a wake-up call,” Mr. Littman told the Globe and Mail. “Here’s a growing audience playing our NHL game and we hadn’t done anything to capture them.”

Mr. Littman then did some stick handling of his own: finding the budget to build her into the game, as well as getting permission from the NHL and EA’s legal department.

Then EA Sports gave Lexi the news. Not only were they adding a female character option, but they wanted Lexi to play the part of the “default” female player that gamers would then be able to customize.

“I was so excited,” says Lexi. “My dad called my grandpa immediately, who called my Uncle Chris, like a chain reaction.”

Bravo to EA Sports for listening to their customers, taking the steps to make that change and then giving Peters credit for the idea in a very clever and charming way. (This post’s main image features a screenshot of Lexi’s appearance in the game.)

The Globe & Mail article elaborates on that interesting story, as they discussed the notion that this is another sign of hockey’s growing popularity with women. The story caught up with Manon Rhéaume , a female goaltender who famously played two exhibition games for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992.

“It’s a big change and it’s exciting to see, because so many girls pay hockey now,” said Manon Rhéaume, the only woman to ever play in the real-world NHL.

With all of this in mind, I cannot help but wonder if female Hockey Hall of Famers Cammi Granato and Angela James might appear as legends in an NHL title in the future. Either way, this is a really cool move by EA and an example of the power of a little bit of inquisitiveness.

(That being said, I’m still holding a grudge on the Mars candy company for ignoring my 15-year-old idea to release more holiday-themed M & Ms. Maybe that cold war will melt away like those thick candy shells one of these days, though.)

[Image via The Globe & Mail.]

Jon Cooper signs multi-year extension with Lightning

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Even if the Tampa Bay Lightning’s historic season ends with a shocking first-round exit, head coach Jon Cooper has plenty of job security.

The Lightning announced on Tuesday that they have agreed to a multi-year extension with Cooper, one day after the sixth anniversary of his promotion to the job. At six years on the job, he’s currently the NHL’s longest-tenured head coach with a 301-157-44 record and .643 points percentage. Since his hiring, the Lightning have the second-most points in the NHL and the most wins over that span.

“I am very pleased to announce Jon’s extension today,” said Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois in a statement. “His ability to forge impactful relationships with everyone from players to staff has been a trademark of his tenure with the organization and he is the absolute best coach for our hockey team. Coop’s ability to develop a strong culture while continually adapting has been a big part of the team’s success. He has helped set high standards for our organization with his unrelenting drive for excellence. I would like to thank Coop and his family for their continuous commitment to the organization, as well as to the Tampa Bay community, and I look forward to working in partnership with Jon for years to come.”

In five full seasons behind the bench in Tampa Cooper has led the Lightning to the Eastern Conference Final three times and the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The two Conference Finals where they fell short — 2016 and 2018 — they lost in seven games to the eventual Cup champion.

This season, Cooper has led an All-Star cast of talent to the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy and the opportunity to top the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings’ regular season wins record (62) and match the NHL record for most points in a season (132), which was set by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens. Following Monday night’s victory over the Boston Bruins, the Lightning have 59 wins and 122 points with five games to play.

Given the Lightning’s success, Cooper should be one of the three finalists this season for the Jack Adams Award, which is voted on by the NHL Broadcasters Association. But before that can be decided, he has his eyes on guiding his team to a second Stanley Cup title in franchise history, which would be a fitting end to a memorable year.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Is Voracek right in saying the Flyers ‘choked?’

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All too often, when an NHL team fails, people learn the wrong lessons. That can be troubling for many reasons, most pressingly: that if they don’t realize why they failed, they could be doomed to make the same mistakes.

To some extent, it doesn’t seem like Jakub Voracek totally understands what happened with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2018-19, or maybe he’s simply too close to everything to truly process it all. Emotions run high, and as we’ve seen before with Voracek, he often doesn’t mask those emotions.

(Hey, at least Voracek isn’t running his team while taking the wrong lessons. Looking at you, Bob Nicholson, who blamed Tobias Rieder for the Oilers’ failures. Consider Edmonton Exhibits A-Z in always trying to treat symptoms instead of the disease.)

While reflecting upon the Flyers’ season, Voracek said he doesn’t want to take anything away from it, and told the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi that they “choked.”

“We had a good push, but unfortunately, anytime we got close — three points, five points — and we played those big teams in front of us [in] those four-point games, we choked,” Voracek said. “We couldn’t find a way to win those big games, and that’s why we are where we are right now.”

The painful reality is that, frankly, the Flyers probably weren’t good enough to “choke.”

Instead, they’ve straddled that line between good and bad where their fates often boil down to the whims of luck.

Personally, it’s most instructive to go back to two phases of the Flyers’ season:

To start the season, the Flyers were a pretty strong possession team, finishing in the top 10 in various metrics (including controlling high-danger chances) by Natural Stat Trick’s measures. Amusingly, they were one of the absolute weakest teams by those same measures during their hot streak.

The differences, then, were some combination of Carter Hart and luck.

PDO combines a team’s shooting percentage and save percentage, giving you a handy (if broad and imperfect) snapshot of a team’s luck. Early on, the Flyers suffered from lousy goaltending and were shooting at a middle-of-the-pack rate. During their hot streak, they were the second-luckiest team in the NHL, and while Hart’s goaltending factored in, their 9.98 percent even-strength shooting percentage ranked second in the NHL.

Long story short, the Flyers have been an unlucky team with shabby goaltending, and then surged when they were getting all the bounces and all the stops.

Breaking: that was always unsustainable.

The question, then, becomes: how can they fix things for next season. Voracek’s comments to Carchidi are a good starting point … because it’s not necessarily an easy fix.

“Tough to say. It’s not my decision,” Voracek said. “I’ve got to prepare myself in the summer and come in here in shape and be a better player, more experienced. Hopefully, we won’t have to focus on digging ourselves out of a hole by December.”

Indeed, it really is tough to say. But maybe there are a few things the Flyers can do.

Getting the coaching situation right is a great start. Should they stick with Scott Gordon, or might they try to go bold and aim for Joel Quenneville?

For all of the good things Hextall did as GM – particularly cleaning up the enormous salary cap messes that stemmed from his predecessors going big all the time – maybe he was too stagnant in certain areas. Hextall didn’t pull the trigger on two key decisions: waiting too long regarding Carter Hart, and waiting too long to move on from Hakstol.

Would the Flyers be in a different spot if the team zigged instead of zagging with those two decisions?

Ultimately, such questions are only hypothetical, so it’s crucial to get the next decisions right.

Basically … they better not choke.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Islanders’ Ladd out for season with torn ACL

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Andrew Ladd‘s time with the New York Islanders has been difficult, to say the least.

After signing a seven-year, $38.5 million contract with the team in free agency prior to the 2016-17 season, his first two years with the team were filled with inconsistency and declining production.

Things have only managed to get worse this season.

After being limited to just 26 games due to injury, the Islanders announced on Tuesday that Ladd now has a torn ACL and will be sidelined for at least the next five months.

He’s expected to be ready for training camp in September.

General manager Lou Lamoriello said Ladd will undergo surgery this week, and also specified that it is not the same leg that he previously injured. It is the other knee.

Ladd played 12 minutes in the Islanders’ 2-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday and will finish the year with three goals and eight assists in 26 games. That brings his three-year total to 38 goals and 31 assists in 177 games with the team. He still has four more seasons remaining on his contract after this season at a salary cap hit of $5.5 million per season.

The Islanders enter Tuesday tied for second place in the Metropolitan Division with the Pittsburgh Penguins, one point back of the Washington Capitals for the top spot.

The Islanders play the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL on NBCSN: It’s Braden Holtby’s time of year

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

From the moment he arrived in the NHL, Braden Holtby has been one of the best goalies in the league and he has all of the hardware to prove it. For as good as he has consistently been in the regular season throughout his career (where he has won the Vezina Trophy once and finished in the top-five two other times, including once as a runner-up), his game has always elevated to another level come playoff time.

With the Capitals looking to secure another spot in the postseason on Tuesday night when they face the Carolina Hurricanes, we are starting to get closer to Holtby’s time of year.

How good has he been in the playoffs? Of the 74 goalies in NHL history that have appeared in at least 40 postseason games, only Tim Thomas has a higher save percentage than Holtby’s .929. But because the Capitals would always be on the short end of the stick come playoff time, often because they would just happen to run into a goalie at the other end of the ice that would play the series of their life for seven games, Holtby would never really get the respect he was always due for his postseason dominance because he never had the ring to back it up.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 PM. ET – NBCSN]

That all changed in 2017-18 when he helped backstop the Capitals to their first ever Stanley Cup with another sensational postseason performance. What was fascinating about that one was that because he had an uncharacteristically down regular season, and struggled at times down the stretch, he did not even start the postseason as the Capitals’ No. 1 goalie. It wasn’t until the team faced a 2-0 series deficit in round one against the Columbus Blue Jackets. that then-head coach Barry Trotz went back to him.

It proved to be a season-saving decision.

Fast forward to this season and when you look at the overall numbers for Holtby he is performing at nearly the same level that he did throughout the 2017-18 season. The numbers are almost identical.

2017-18: 54 starts, .914 even-strength save percentage, .907 all situations save percentage
2018-19: 54 starts, .920 even-strength save percentage, .909 all situations save percentage

The only difference this season is that Holtby is starting to trend up a little sooner than he did a year ago with, entering Tuesday’s game with a .914 save percentage of his past 20 starts over the past two months.

The trade deadline additions of Nick Jensen and Carl Hagelin have helped improve the Capitals’ overall play and defensive performance, but they are still a middle of the pack to slightly below average team when it comes to their possession numbers and ability to cut down on chances and shots against. That can be a problem, especially if they lose Michal Kempny for an extended period of time (as it appears that they will).

Normally that is not a great sign for success in the postseason, but they were able to overcome it a year ago because they have superstar forwards that can outscore anyone on any given night, and because Holtby dominated when they needed him most.

If they are going to make another deep run in the playoffs and go for a repeat as Stanley Cup Champions they are going to need a similar type effort from Holtby.

History shows he is capable of doing it, and his performance over the past two months seem to indicate he is approaching that level that this season.

John Forslund (play-by-play) and AJ Mleczko (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.