PHT remembers hockey video games: An ode to the NHL 2K series

Thornton NHL 2K cover
via 2K Sports

Every Tuesday, PHT will remember a hockey video game (or games). Since we don’t have every console or cartridge, some posts will be recollections, not reviews. This week, we look back at the NHL 2K series, which served as great competition for EA’s NHL games, particularly during the Playstation 2 era.

This past weekend, ESPN’s feed gave Twitter addicts welcome reprieve from “pick three” lists with the question: “What is the peak of your personal athletic achievements?”

Naturally, I sat that out, as my peak athletic achievements lean toward “not being chosen last in a pickup game.” Now, if you ask about the peak of my fake video game athletic achievements, the NHL 2K series etched one moment in my memory.

A personal highlight from the NHL 2K series

Allow me to set the scene.

It was late in the summer of 2006, in my deeply crummy Texas apartment. If “Guitar Hero” wasn’t on the screen, chances are, it was “NHL 2K6.”

Facing off for the first time against someone who would become a lifelong friend, I was controlling Ilya Kovalchuk. And, folks, I made the move.

If you’ve ever gotten hooked on hockey video games, you know that there are some surefire ways to score goals. In that run of NHL 2K games, this cheesy behind the net plus backhand move was money. Especially with Kovalchuk.

Yet, instead of cash registers ringing from said money, there was … nothing. Was I mad? Perhaps, but I was undoubtedly perplexed.

Well, it turns out that the money move was indeed money. Maybe Kovalchuk doing the move broke the game. The puck actually hit the very top of the glass behind the net, bounced back off of the opposing goalie, hit the crossbar, and went in.

Speaking of being mad or not, if my friend was upset, he didn’t exactly show it. We were both perplexed, and frankly in awe.

During the latter years of the Playstation 2 era, the NHL 2K series captured my attention away from EA’s offerings. That turned out to be short-lived, as EA pulled away with the “skill stick” and jump to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.

NHL 2K didn’t just fall behind in the race. It ended up falling out altogether.

But, like the Blackhawks and Kings … hey, we still have the memories. And a lot of the NHL 2K memories ended up being fond ones. For a while.

The birth of the NHL 2K series

As with 2K Sports’ other sports titles, including the still-running NBA 2K franchise, and the still-beloved NFL 2K games, the NHL 2K series got its start on the all-too-briefly realized Sega Dreamcast console.

(If you want to observe people getting weird about video game hardware, do some Dreamcast deep diving.)

  • NHL 2K launched the series with Brendan Shanahan on the cover.
  • The series took a year off, returning with Chris Drury-starring NHL 2K2. It might have been the final North American release for the Dreamcast.
  • NHL 2K3 and the following release ESPN NHL Hockey both featured Jeremy Roenick on their covers. (The 2K games did this around that era, as Allen Iverson basically had a monopoly on the NBA 2K games.)

ESPN NHL 2K5: darkest spot of the golden era

There was a lot to like about ESPN NHL 2K5. It was part of the run of 2K games that were only $20, and it didn’t backfire for the NHL 2K series like it did for NFL 2K.

(People also lionize ESPN NFL 2K5 to this day.)

But whenever I saw that cover with Martin St. Louis, I couldn’t avoid thoughts about the 2004-05 lockout.

2K Sports/Youtube

Dark times.

  • Personally speaking, NHL 2K6 and NHL 2K7 were the last titles in the series that truly hooked me (and friends).

NHL 2K7 wasn’t just a swan song to many. It also featured out of place songs by way of a soundtrack with acts like The Postal Service. It’s uncomfortable that the latter stages of the series were more worthy of emo.

EA Sports pulls away

Things drastically changed when EA made a more successful jump to the next consoles thanks to brilliant execution of “the skill stick.”

  • You could really start to see the strain to catch up with NHL 2K8, which wasn’t received particularly well. Things didn’t get much better for NHL 2K9, either.
  • Consider NHL 2K10 something of the end of an era, as it was the last in the series to appear on the more powerful consoles. It’s also an oddity that Alex Ovechkin was on the cover, being that he also appeared on the cover for EA’s NHL ’07.

NHL 2K10 did cater to fans in two specific ways: being the first to feature the Winter Classic, and also helped turn the tide for the Hartford Whalers’ jerseys to appear in games again.

  • Things really fizzled out from there with NHL 2K11 (Wii and iPhone) and simply NHL 2K (mobile game) years later in 2014. Curiously, Ryan Kesler was the cover star for the latter two games.

***

Basically, the NHL 2K series went out like … erm, Ryan Kesler, actually. But like a beloved star who stayed around too long, let’s try to remember the good times instead of the sadder moments.

PHT remembers other hockey video games:

  • NHL Championship 2000, Fox’s rare foray into hockey video games, starring Mike Modano.
  • NHL Slapshot, a Wii video game with a small plastic hockey stick peripheral that even Wayne Gretzky found delightful.
  • EA’s NHL ’98, when the company hit its polygonal stride, and also featured a great soundtrack (ironically and unironically?).

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.

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