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Our Line Starts podcast: Bauer’s COVID-19 efforts; best NHL rosters

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Liam McHugh, Patrick Sharp, and Keith Jones are joined by special guest Mary-Kay Messier, VP of Global Marketing at Bauer Hockey. Messier describes how the company has quickly pivoted from making hockey helmet visors, to creating medical face shields that will soon be implemented in hospitals across North America to combat the spread of COVID-19. Plus, Sharp’s experience playing a shortened NHL season, and a debate about which teams have the best rosters in the league right now.

0:00-14:00 Interview with Bauer’s Mary-Kay Messier
14:00-19:30 Mixed opinions on resuming play with regular season or playoffs
19:30-20:30 Sharp remembers playing in the shortened 2012-13 season
22:15-24:15 The guys debate which four teams have the best rosters in the NHL

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

Mary-Kay Messier on Bauer making medical shields to battle coronavirus

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As the fight continues against the coronavirus, there are some companies stepping up to help the brave medical professionals across the globe. Equipment manufacturer Bauer has switched from making hockey gear like visors to protective shields.

Bauer VP of global marketing Mary-Kay Messier joined the Our Line Starts podcast this week to discuss the company’s production transition and how others are aiding them in making protective gear.

You can listen to the rest of this week’s podcast here:

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

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Follow this NBC News live update thread for more on the coronavirus pandemic.

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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.

NHL extends self-quarantine guideline until April 15

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The NHL has extended its guideline for players and staff to self-quarantine until April 15 and it is possible the coronavirus pandemic could push that back even further.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly confirmed the extension to the Associated Press in an email Tuesday. It adds an extra 11 days to the previous guidance of April 4, which Daly last week acknowledged was “a meaningless date” because of the rapidly changing situation.

“As we get closer to the date, we’re going to have to make decisions as to what to do then,” Daly said. “We’re biting this off in chunks.”

The NHL put its season on pause March 12 with 189 regular-season games remaining. Commissioner Gary Bettman said then he was optimistic of resuming the season and awarding the Stanley Cup.

The timeline for doing that still isn’t clear. The NHL has asked teams for arena availability dates through August, so it wouldn’t be inconceivable to see hockey last deep into the summer.

“Depending on how the country, the world handles the virus, I think there is a possibility of playing end of June, July, August,” Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said Monday.

Several things have to happen first. President Donald Trump extended U.S. social distancing guidelines through the end of April, and the NHL said it will evaluate the situation 45 days into the CDC’s eight-week recommendation against gatherings of 50-plus people that runs until mid-May.

The NHL’s chief medical officer said getting players together in small groups is the first step toward potentially resuming the season. State, provincial and local lockdown regulations could affect the re-opening of team practice facilities for informal skates.

So far, four NHL players have tested positive for COVID-19: two each from the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators.

MacLellan said his staff is preparing for what small-group practices might look like.

“We’ve talked about that scenario taking place where we get on the other side of the virus curve and there’s beginnings of you can have small groups,” MacLellan said. “Could we structure something at (our facility) where we’re bringing in three, four guys at a time, how do we handle sanitizing the training room, the equipment room.”

PHT remembers video games: NHL Slapshot, a Wii oddity starring Wayne Gretzky

NHL Slapshot Nintendo Wii Wayne Gretzky
via EA Sports/Amazon
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Every Tuesday, PHT will remember a hockey video game, preferably one less obvious than the “Swingers”-immortalized “NHL 94.” Due to technological limitations many reviews will lean closer to recollections. Either way, hopefully these are fun — and maybe inspire people to scour a flea market or two when it becomes safe to do so.

When EA Sports announced NHL Slapshot for the then-red-hot Nintendo Wii, some groaned as if they blocked an actual slapper. It ended up working out better than expected, just not enough to be a smash hit.

Plenty of game companies tried to emulate the “even kids and grandparents can play it” genius of Wii Sports, but most failed. Mix that copycat mentality with all of the “shovelware” being released and expectations were low for NHL Slapshot. A game where you morph a video game controller into a virtual hockey stick? Yeah, good luck with that.

(Oh yeah, this was also around the time when EA was repeatedly being voted “the worst company in America,” which is almost too absurd to type. Avid gamers are not always the most reasonable people.)

Yet, instead of being a shameless, half-baked cash grab, NHL Slapshot ended up being … quite good. It simply didn’t put enough elements together to draw attention from enough of those kids and grandparents.

NHL Slapshot was better than expected, but maybe didn’t hit the sweet spot

This “controller trailer” captures many of the basics for NHL Slapshot. Basically, players would insert the Wii’s strange “nunchuk” controller setup into a plastic mini-stick included in the game’s box. Then they’d use it to play an arcade-style game.

EA Sports deserves a lot of credit — it was a pretty ingenious setup.

But, frankly, my overriding memory of owning NHL Slapshot was that dealing with the controller was kind of a pain. While it wasn’t that difficult to put together, it was just frustrating enough. Being that it was a MacGyver-style setup to turn that controller into a hockey stick, you’d have to take the controller out if you wanted to play another game. Unless you decided to have a controller devoted solely to NHL Slapshot. It could be a little uncomfortable at times, too.

That stick controller stands as a microcosm for the game overall. It was clever, but didn’t quite find that sweet spot. NHL Slapshot didn’t quite appease hardcore sports fans, and was a bit clunky for casual audiences.

Not quite there

Sometimes “better than it has any right to be” translates merely to a nice novelty that fades.

Matt Bertz captured the mixed-bag feel of NHL Slapshot in a Game Informer review back in 2010:

Performing the real-world gestures for crosschecks, slap shots, wrist shots, and poke checks triggers the corresponding moves in the game. The game tracks your checking and slap shot motions admirably, but the rest of the moves don’t have much accuracy. Backhands are particularly unresponsive, as are wrist shots in those moments where you pick up a loose puck around the net and must get off a shot in nanoseconds before getting checked or losing possession. The deking moves are very rigid in comparison to the analog stick movements in NHL 11, and given the slight controller lag, the poke check and stick sweep options aren’t effective strategies on defense.

Don’t take this as totally dragging EA, though. The game did quite a lot right, and that was reflected in some pretty solid reviews, as you can see at Metacritic. An aggregate score of 76 really isn’t half-bad for an experimental, family-friendly game like NHL Slapshot.

NHL Slapshot brought out Gretzky’s inner gamer

Even if the game was a total failure — which, again, it was not — this charmingly awkward footage of Gretzky playing the game would justify its existence.

This footage, unearthed from the game’s Amazon listing, includes:

  • Gretzky making the “I’m playing a game” face, especially in the beginning.
  • “The Great One” attempts to get his kid interested in playing a game, and largely being ignored.
  • Gretzky sounding like a kid when he says that he wants to play as Alex Ovechkin.

Tremendous, right?

Pondering slight potential for a spiritual successor

As I mentioned before, NHL Slapshot seemed a touch before its time. It was a noble effort, but the lack of a sequel cements the notion that it didn’t quite come together.

It does make me wonder, though. What if EA or another company put real effort into a hockey video game that takes advantage of virtual reality?

Now, that hypothetical game would absolutely count as a niche within a niche. Even so, virtual reality games sometimes go that far, and a company like EA could conceivably bundle a hockey game with golf, football, and other sports. Sure, that sounds like a long shot, but NHL Slapshot was unlikely (and pretty solid) too, so who knows?

MORE: Remembering NHL Championship 2000, starring Mike Modano.

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.

Crosby, McDavid, Gritty top 2019-20 NHLPA Player Poll

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The NHLPA delayed releasing the results of its 2019-20 player poll due to the league pause, but the answers finally arrived on Tuesday.

If you’ve ever wanted to know who makes up the NHL’s best bromance or who has the best fashion sense, as well as answers to the usual “best forward,” “most complete player,” and “worst trash talker” questions, today is your day.

First, the usual stuff. Nearly 600 players were polled before the league’s pause and they voted Connor McDavid (68.35%) the overwhelming “Best Forward.” Sidney Crosby (14.93%) was a distant second. Victor Hedman (37.88%) topped John Carlson (21.35%) as “Best Defenseman,” while Carey Price (41.55%) was tabbed “Best Goalie” over Andrei Vasilevskiy (17.09%).

Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin (39.92%) was voted “Best Female Hockey Player in the World” over Hilary Knight (36.29%) and Kendall Coyne Schofield (15.52%) of the U.S.

Crosby (44.03%) did earn the “If you need to win one game, who is the one player (any position) you would want on your team?” award over McDavid (30.53%) and was also voted “Most Complete Player” with 45.56% of the vote over Patrice Bergeron (25.44%).

There were plenty of fun topics the players voted on, and Brad Marchand should be proud. For the second straight year the Bruins forward was voted the best and worst trash-talker in the NHL. He beat out Drew Doughty and Patrick Maroon for “Best,” while topping Doughty again, as well as P.K. Subban and Nick Cousins for “Worst.”

Who has the “best bromance” in the league? Well, that was a tough one. David Perron and Ryan O’Reilly narrowly edged out the combos of Joe Thornton/Brent Burns, Auston Matthews/Mitch Marner, Jamie Benn/Tyler Seguin, and Patrice Bergeron/Brad Marchand. Some players had a funny sense of humor giving Matthew Tkachuk and Drew Doughty 3.67% of the vote.

The players also showed their desire to allow more personality in the game. Over 40% said they’d like to see custom skate designs and 73% are in favor of relaxing the NHL’s game-day dress code.

In a surprise to no one Gritty took 69.72% of the vote in the “Best Mascot” category. His closest competitors were Gnash (Predators), Howler (Coyotes), Bailey (Kings), and Youppi! (Canadiens), who received just under 3%.

You can check out the rest of the awards at the NHLPA website.

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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.