Marty Turco

Thornton NHL 2K cover
via 2K Sports

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

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.

Goaltending remains Leafs’ biggest x-factor

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Toronto’s core of forwards is pretty sound at this point, and only getting better thanks to the addition of James van Riemsdyk and the growth of youngsters like Nazem Kadri, Matt Frattin, and Joe Colborne.

Their defense seems similarly strong, led by Dion Phaneuf, John-Michael Liles, Jake Gardiner, and Carl Gunnarsson.

Still, whether or not the Leafs are a playoff team is open for debate, and the main point of criticism is their goaltending. Toronto might still make a move, but as things currently stand, they are likely to enter the season with James Reimer and Ben Scrivens as their goaltending duo.

Reimer had a remarkable rookie season, but his sophomore campaign was derailed early because of a concussion. Even when he returned, he was never able to get back on track.

One potential alternative would be to acquire Roberto Luongo, but the length of his contract makes that problematic. If the Toronto Maple Leafs are still three-to-five years away from competing for the Stanley Cup, then Luongo would be in his mid-to-late 30s before Toronto is ready to make a serious playoff run.

The alternative would be to get a veteran backup to help take some pressure off Reimer and maybe serve as a calming influence, but the unrestricted free agent market is devoid of any ideal candidates. Ty Conklin, Marty Turco, and Brent Johnson are still unsigned, but at this point the Leafs might not be comfortable having any of those three serve as their starter for extended periods should Reimer struggle.

With that in mind, it’s entirely possible that Toronto will not be able to make a significant move to address their goaltending situation over the summer. With that in mind, Toronto’s odds of making the playoffs in 2012-13 might be firmly tied to Reimer’s ability to bounce back.

Journeyman goalie Auld signs in Austria

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Given the number of times Alex Auld has changed locales over the last seven years, it’s no surprise his travels are now taking him to Europe.

Salzburg, to be exact.

EC Red Bull Salzburg — the four-time Austrian League champion — recently announced the 31-year-old Auld has signed on for the 2012-13 campaign.

(Red Bull is same team that employed Marty Turco before he signed a late-season deal with the Boston Bruins. It’s currently coached by longtime NHL bench boss Pierre Page and features ex-NHLers Shawn Hunwick and Rob Davison.)

“Alex Auld is a highly talented goalie and a strong character,” Page told the team website. “He believes in the Red Bull Hockey Model and that his stint in Salzburg will help him to take another step in the right direction.”

Once a promising young netminder (he was Vancouver’s team MVP in 2005-06), Auld has spent the last few years bouncing around the NHL.

Since 2006-07 he’s gone from Florida to Phoenix to Boston to Ottawa to Dallas to New York (Rangers) to Montreal, then back to Ottawa last season — where he fell out of favor after the Sens acquired Ben Bishop.

Auld has a 91-88-2-32 record in 237 career NHL games with a .904 save percentage and 2.80 GAA.

Tuukka Rask might be ready for the playoffs

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The Bruins come into the playoffs with a few injuries of note to Johnny Boychuk and Nathan Horton, but backup goalie Tuukka Rask is still out with a groin/abdomen injury that’s kept him out of action since early March.

Now with the playoffs about to start this week and things not looking good for Horton, attention has turned to Rask to see if he’ll be able to backup Tim Thomas as the Bruins look to defend the Stanley Cup. CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty hears it from Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli that Rask is right on schedule for when he’s due to return.

“I’d characterize Johnny [Boychuk] and Adam [McQuaid] as day-to-day in their respective injuries. I think Tuukka’s is maybe a little bit more than day-to-day. He’s been pretty aggressive with his rehab,” said Chiarelli. “I don’t have my calendar in front of me but I think he might be bang on [with a six-week rehab]. We’ll see how he goes the next couple of days, but we certainly have a capable backup in [Anton] Khudobin [if Rask can’t play].”

If you’re wondering about Marty Turco, he’s not eligible to play for the Bruins in the playoffs because he signed out of Switzerland after the trade deadline.

It’s just the backup goalie position but we’ve seen backups play more-than important roles in the past and the Bruins would like to be fully squared away in goal. Looks like they won’t be too far off from that after all.

Boston has been the land of opportunity for goalies this season

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The Boston Bruins will have another new face in goal this evening when Anton Khudobin makes his Bruins debut. Khudobin, 25, will be the fourth goalie Boston has used this season, joining the likes of Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask and Marty Turco.

Of all those goalies, Turco is the one Khudobin best relates to.

Turco, 36, was out of the league when the Bruins signed him to replace the injured Rask in March. Prior to joining Boston, he’d been playing in the Austrian league after failing to secure an NHL contract following a one-year stint in Chicago.

All told, Turco went almost an entire calendar year between NHL starts.

That’s something Khudobin can relate to. His last NHL start came with Minnesota in Jan. 2011 — a 4-1 win over Edmonton — and his career has been a whirlwind ever since. After the Oilers win, he was sent back Minnesota’s AHL affiliate in Houston, then traded to Boston at the deadline and dispatched to AHL Providence, where he played well.

That strong finish in Providence paved the way for an emergency recall in last year’s playoffs, where he was included on the Bruins’ team picture and awarded a Stanley Cup ring.

Fast forward to today, where Khubodin will finally play for the Bruins. Needless to say, he’s stoked.

“It’s a great feeling. It’s always fun to play at this level. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity,” said Khudobin, who returned from a wrist injury in March. “We’ll see what happens before the game, but I’m sure there will be some butterflies there. It’s my first NHL start in a couple of years.

“But at the same time I’m ready to play and I’m pretty excited.”

There’s a possibility Khudobin could play an even bigger role in this year’s playoffs. With Rask still hurt and Turco postseason ineligible, there’s a strong chance Khudobin will be Thomas’ No. 2 when the playoffs start on Apr. 11.