EA Sports ‘NHL ’94 Rewind’ review: The power (and limits) of nostalgia

Upon first booting up “NHL ’94 Rewind,” which began as a pre-order bonus for EA Sports’ “NHL ’21,” you get those warm-and-fuzzy feelings. Look at that pixelated Alex Ovechkin! Marvel at those hold sound effects, and the wonderful throwback presentation, with cold streaks and Ron Barr previews. This is it, folks: the NHL ’94 ROM, but with modern players (albeit with rosters that probably won’t get updated from last season).

Let it be known: “NHL ’94 Rewind” showcases the power of nostalgia. But it also serves as a reminder that nostalgia can sometimes warp reality.

NHL ’94 Rewind review: the power and limits of nostalgia

One can imagine how tired EA Sports developers get of hearing about how great those old 16-bit games were. At times, the implication is that the modern version, most recently “NHL ’21,” simply isn’t up to snuff.

Yet, when you first jump into “NHL ’94 Rewind,” the limitations can be striking.

After years of polishing their skating engine — for all its faults, it can be a blast to leave defenders in the icy dust in “NHL ’21” — the herky-jerky, limited animations of the “NHL ’94” engine take quite a while to get used to.

Naturally, teammate artificial intelligence also wasn’t all the way there decades ago. (Pauses for barbs about how that teammate A.I. still isn’t there for “NHL ’21.” Go ahead, that’s fair.)

If you want to experience a truly frustrating phenomenon, leave offside on in “NHL ’94 Rewind.” You’ll encounter the 16-bit hockey version of herding cats.

For the first few playthroughs, I truly wondered why I missed the 16-bit-style, arcade-y titles that included the base for “NHL ’94 Rewind.” But, after a while, the old-school controls started to click, and it was clear why people still battle on emulators to this day.

Breaking the glass when you miss the net with a slapshot? Fun. Scoring a goal when you’re passing with a goalie? Also fun.

Yes, I’d argue that people probably look back at the 16-bit era with rose-colored, anti-polygonal glasses. While I eventually enjoyed “NHL ’94 Rewind,” I’m not sure it’s something that will keep me coming back. (Frankly, once the nostalgia and charm wear off, I jump back into “NHL ’21,” warts and all.)

That said, it’s heartening that there’s still the core of a fun game here. Watching little pixelated Connor McDavid zip around the ice is a real treat. As is seeing teams compete, even though they didn’t exist during the times of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis/Master System.

Yet, there are missing features that leave you wanting more — or maybe for EA Sports to “rewind” a later 16-bit game than the often-mentioned “NHL ’94.”

[More hockey video game fun: “NHL ’21” franchise mode review]

“NHL ’94 Rewind” sorely needs online multiplayer

Upon first hearing about “NHL ’94 Rewind,” it seemed like it would be a no-brainer for EA Sports to release a standalone version. After all, there could be plenty of people who’d pay, say, $15-20 for that spruced-up trip down memory lane. (If nothing else, maybe EA Sports can rectify the lack of any NHL games on the Nintendo Switch, which still feels borderline negligent.)

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was wrong. Charging anything more than, say, $5-$10 for “NHL ’94 Rewind” would be suboptimal. At least in its current form.

Above all else, “NHL ’94 Rewind” lacks legs because you can’t play online. As much as those games were college dorm room staples, a large portion of that audience can no longer get together with the college buddies they’d want to renew rivalries with. That was true even before the pandemic altered life, yet is even more pertinent now.

And, again, based on people playing NHL 94 on an emulator since 2003, it’s probably not too much to ask to get that netcode up and running.

On the bright side, it sounds like EA Sports may make “NHL ’94 Rewind” available outside of that pre-order window, and maybe online play could come at some point.

Maybe EA Sports should rewind something else?

Allow this suggestion, instead: take the lessons learned from “NHL ’94 Rewind” and go top shelf with a more fully-featured update of “NHL ’95” or “NHL ’96.”

If EA Sports updated “NHL ’95” and/or “NHL ’96,” they’d be able to provide fans with more tools to keep the games up to date. Generally speaking, people use “NHL ’94” as a catch-all term for the 16-bit NHL franchise, but it’s those later additions that included player trading, and eventually the ability to create players. (“NHL ’96” also includes fights, which were oh-so-much more important in older hockey video games.*)

At Lighthouse Hockey, Dan Saraceni discussed how underrated “NHL ’95” was, particularly for its transactions. Credit EA Sports with leaning into memes from its trade rejecting logic already …

But just imagine the meme potential of “NHL ’95 Rewind” rejecting real-life trades. Seriously, this image template is just begging to make fun of Peter Chiarelli’s first splashy trade with Inevitable Team X.

GM Mode NHL '95, NHL '94 Rewind review
via EA Sports/Lighthouse Hockey

Frankly, franchise modes have spoiled me. I want at least a better progression than the more one-and-done feeling of “NHL ’94 Rewind.” While EA NHL’s later 16-bit games wouldn’t cover all of those bases, they’d likely have a better shelf life than the older iteration.

Now, look. EA Sports didn’t even need to dust off that old ROM for “NHL ’94 Rewind” at all. Still, there’s enough potential here to add some perks and make it a full-fledged release. But I’d definitely be more interested in forking over serious cash for “NHL ’95 or ’96 Rewind.”

(Especially if they ported it to the Switch or PC. We can dream, can’t we?)

* – Fighting in “NHL 21” is … only slightly more fun than actually getting punched.

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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    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

    Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.

    Bruins rolling, rest of NHL making final push for playoffs

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — Bruce Cassidy’s Vegas Golden Knights lost eight of 10 games going into the All-Star break after leading the Pacific Division at the midway point of the NHL season.

    They’re still safely in a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they can’t keep it up.

    “We’re still in a good position – that’s the way we look at it,” Cassidy said. “There’s not too many teams that can cruise home the last 30 games in this league, and we’re certainly not one of them.”

    Cassidy’s old team, the Boston Bruins, probably could. They’re atop the NHL and running away with the Atlantic Division.

    With 39 wins and 83 points through 51 games, Boston is on pace to break the record for the best regular season in NHL history. The Carolina Hurricanes, who beat Boston in seven games in the first round last year, are next in the standings at 76 points.

    “Top to bottom, there’s no weaknesses,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

    The Bruins are in a class of their own, but the playoff races behind them in the East and West should be hot down the stretch with roughly 30 games to go before the chase for the Stanley Cup begins.


    The Hurricanes rode a seven-game winning streak into the break, putting some fear into the Bruins in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage through the postseason. Winger Max Pacioretty re-tearing his right Achilles tendon five games into his return didn’t slow them down, and if their goaltending holds up, Carolina stands a good chance of reaching the East final.

    “This team, it’s a special group of guys,” said Brind’Amour, who captained Carolina to the Cup in 2006 and is in his fifth year as coach. “We kind of show that nightly. It’s just very consistent, and they take their job real serious. They do it right.”

    The second-place New Jersey Devils are contending for the first time since 2018. Bottoming out the next season helped them win the lottery for No. 1 pick Jack Hughes, a two-time All-Star who has them winning ahead of schedule.

    “Much better than being out of the mix,” Hughes said. “We’re really excited because it’s going to be a lot of important hockey, and it’s going to be really competitive and we’re really pumped to be where we are.”

    They’re followed by the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders. All three New York-area teams could make it, which was the expectation for the Rangers after reaching the East final last year.

    “I think the run last year really taught us a few things and stuff that we obviously could build on for the rest of this year,” 2021 Norris-Trophy winning defenseman Adam Fox said.


    The Rangers lost to the Lightning in six games last spring, when two-time champion Tampa Bay reached the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive season before getting beat by the Colorado Avalanche.

    The Lightning are almost certain to face the Toronto Maple Leafs – who haven’t won a playoff series since the NHL salary cap era began in 2005 – in the first round and remain a threat to the Bruins.

    But Boston has separated itself despite starting the season without top left winger Brad Marchand and No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy. The Bruins have lost only 12 games under new coach Jim Montgomery.

    “You just keep winning,” said All-Star right winger David Pastrnak, who’s tied for third in the league in scoring. “Every single line and every single guy is going and it obviously builds our confidence. It’s funny sometimes what confidence can do in hockey.”

    The Islanders should have some more confidence after acquiring 30-goal scorer Bo Horvat from Vancouver, but still need to make up ground to get in.


    Defending champion Colorado climbed in the standings – winning seven of eight going into the break despite an injury-riddled first half of the season. Captain Gabriel Landeskog still has not made his season debut since undergoing knee surgery. It would be foolish to bet against the Avs coming out of the West again.

    “It’s up to us: We control our own fate,” All-Star center Nathan MacKinnon said. “We need to definitely keep playing the way we were before the break. No matter who’s in the lineup we were playing well, playing hard, so it would definitely help with healthy bodies.”

    They still trail the Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild in the Central, and the Nashville Predators are on their heels. Only the Stars and Jets are essentially guaranteed a spot.

    “Every point, you grind for it,” Stars leading scorer Jason Robertson said. “Every point’s going to be a dog fight, so it’s going to be a fun 30 games down the stretch.”


    Undisputed MVP favorite Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, who were swept by Colorado in the West final, have a little bit of catching up to do in the Pacific Division.

    The top spot is held by the Seattle Kraken, who surprisingly are on pace to make the playoffs in their second season but still need to fend off the Los Angeles Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights.

    Edmonton – and the Battle of Alberta rival Calgary Flames – have the talent to not only get in but make a run. McDavid leads the league with 41 goals and 92 points, 16 more than No. 2 scorer and teammate Leon Draisaitl, and is producing unlike anyone since Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux in the mid-1990s.

    Now he’ll try to carry the Oilers into the playoffs and beyond.

    “It hasn’t been easy at all for our group. We’ve kind of had to battle for everything that we’ve got,” McDavid said. “We’ve always been a second-half team for whatever reason. Even since my first year, we’ve always been better in the second half, so we’ll definitely look to continue that. That being said, we’re not going to hang our hat on that and expect that to carry us to the playoffs. There’s a lot of work to be done.”