Genre: Sports
Year: 1996
Developed by: Ceris Software
Published by: EA Sports
Platforms: PC, Playstation, SNES, Saturn, Genesis
Feeling Like: Cool

I don’t remember loving hockey in Halifax. I don’t remember much at all from the East Coast, to be honest. We moved to Victoria when I was six years old. Everything prior to that is only flashes of what my room was like, and how I gave myself a haircut while watching Astro Boy (Mom was not pleased). I was obsessed with the BBC’s version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The effects haven’t aged well, but there’s still a charm to it that I find utterly endearing.

Moving on.

I didn’t watch a single NHL match prior to leaving for the West Coast. But when I got here, I quickly settled in; hockey, more notably the Pittsburgh Penguins, were everything. They won back to back Stanley Cups and I immediately jumped on the bandwagon and never left. I didn’t have a family legacy of a specific team to cheer for (dad was more into cricket), so I just landed on the one that was winning. It helped they also had a guy named Mario.

From then on, I had to watch every game I could find on TV, play floor hockey whenever I could and, of course, getting my hands on every iteration of the yearly NHL franchise.

I’ve decided to only put two NHL games on the 500. Despite many wonderful memories with almost every NHL game, it wouldn’t be much variance beyond “I played with this group of friends, and then a few years later I played with a different group of friends and it was great.” NHL ’05 will be on for a very, very specific reason but NHL’97 was the first one I really dove into and played the crap out of.

Why I chose a screenshot featuring two of the Penguins’ biggest rivals, I’ll never know

If you’ve seen one old school NHL game, you’ve seen them all. NHL ’97 is no different. The players glide effortlessly, the puck whisks across the ice like it’s slicked with cristco. The players make appropriately gruff sounds when they come into contact with each other, and passes can be made with unrealistic accuracy at all times. In other words, perfect.

Well, not quite perfect. Trying to set your players into proper position is like asking the kids at Camp Hope to stride. It’s also extremely easy to score cheesy goals, but this was hardly unique to NHL ’97. All early hockey games had a way to score every time, usually some variation on cutting across the crease, or switching to your backhand at the last second. Winning a game 31-0 is fun at first, but the lack of challenge starts to grate on you after an entire season of it.

Speaking of a lack of challenge for the Avalanche…

What didn’t get old was creating players and stacking them on the roster with my heroes. I was, obviously, Left Wing to Mario Lemieux’s Center and Jaromir Jagr’s Right Wing. My number was naturally 67 (Mario being 66 and Jagr being 68…yes, I know the numerical order isn’t right, let me have my fun). Dave V decided that the best use of this feature would be to make all of our friends, but they would have the last name of “cool.” So, we had a 5 man lineup of…

Dave Cool
Henry Cool
Kasim Cool
Eric Cool
Allan Cool

We used this feature so much that we actually reached the maximum amount of players the cartridge would allow. We were puzzled. The concept of memory and storage space didn’t really exist as a 12 year old in the late 90s. We couldn’t make more? Can we delete existing custom players? No? Well, I guess we’re permanently stuck with the Cool’s. Not the worst, particularly since all of them had maxed out speed and shot power.

NHL ’97 was comfort food. Regardless of what RPG or action game I was playing, I gave myself an appetizer with a game or two of hockey before settling in. I knew it would give me the satisfaction of flying down the ice, crashing into the boards and blasting a shot into a crowded crease, hoping for a last second goal.

It wouldn’t be the last NHL game I’d play religiously, but it was the first one I really dug my heels into.

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