By Jameson Cooper, Staff Writer
These are tough times for hockey fans.
Many people who rely on the NHL either for work or entertainment will soon be left with nothing. This impending cancellation of games has turned even the cheeriest of fans into the darkest cynics.
The Internet has become a firing range for fans to take out their frustrations and vent their displeasures with the league. As I spend the mornings perusing hockey blogs and forums, most comments are filled with either hate or profound sadness. I agree that after hearing the latest news on the lockout that there isn’t much to be happy about the current situation — however, it is in these times when the NHL is giving us so much to hate that we should remind ourselves how we fell in love with it in the first place.
I know that a lot of hockey fans have it in their blood. Born into a hockey home and given a pair of skates within days after their first steps. They are a part of a grand hockey tradition; they love it, their father loved it, their grandfather loved it and so on. Many fans however, especially those in places where hockey isn’t at the forefront of people’s minds, are left to find other ways to nurture their love for the game.
Like many others, my road to the glorious hockey promise land was jump started by EA’s NHL 94. It was 1993 and I was living on Long Island, a few hours from New York City. My parents had divorced the year after I was born and my father wasn’t around much. Although we occasionally played baseball together, he still was never the traditional father that most other children had.
As much as I loved sports, I never really had male role model in my life to take me out and get me involved as much as I would have liked. The sports related conversations with my father mostly centered on baseball and the Boston Red Sox which lead to me being virtually unaware of anything hockey related for the early years of my life — then came Christmas 1993.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas I had been begging my mother to get me Mortal Kombat for Christmas. Other kids at school had already been fortunate to have it and their conversations about it during recess made me green with envy. However, my mother had no intention to buy me such a violent video game, but up until Christmas morning I still had high hopes.
Christmas morning came and like most others before it I was opening presents in my pajamas at six AM sharp. After tearing through wrapping paper and moving gift to gift, I finally came across a video game, though it was not the one I had been expecting.
In my mother’s efforts to find a suitable replacement for the much coveted Mortal Kombat, she ended up settling on NHL 94 for Super Nintendo. Although I had never even seen a hockey game before she thought it would be nice for me to experience the game that her brothers had grown up playing.
While other children may have been disappointed in not getting what they wanted, I was rather intrigued by the images on the box: men wearing pads and helmets like suits of armor. It was definitely more than enough to peak my curiosity and jump start my imagination.
Within days after Christmas I was hooked on the game. My friends that had once been in love with Mortal Kombat were now coming over to my house to play NHL 94 with me. We would spend hours playing non-stop and had the time of our lives. We all started to pick our favorite teams, I always played as the Islanders because of a t-shirt that I had once owned with their logo on it, but I only now started to realize what it stood for.
My other friends picked teams based on aesthetics. For example, my friend Andrew would always play as Pittsburgh because he loved penguins.
There were also certain rules that always governed our play dates. If there were more than two of us there, the winner of a game would continue on until beaten. If someone punched someone else out of frustration they were banned from playing for a game.
Perhaps the most important rule was the “No Roenick” rule, which kept any of us from playing as Chicago due to the fact that Jeremy Roenick was far too good in the game. I can’t even begin to tell you how many good memories with my friends this game helped create.
The affect NHL 94 had on me and my friends ended up being much greater than just a video game. After a few weeks of playing the game we all suddenly were hockey experts. We knew all the teams and all the players on each roster. We began to be curious about the actual game itself and started watching on television. The action on TV was enough to keep us hooked and I caught every game that I could. I watched my first Stanley Cup Finals in 1994 when the Rangers beat the Canucks.
Amazingly, NHL 94 was also a game that got my friends and me outdoors as much as in. After countless hours of being in control of our favorite NHL stars, we wanted to join the action and be hockey players ourselves. We began to pass the puck around in the driveway and eventually played pond hockey the following winter. The more we played NHL 94, the more we wanted to be the stars that we were controlling.
Now, almost 20 years later, I still have an incredibly strong love for the NHL. This article is basically my love letter to NHL 94 and how it forever changed my outlook and appreciation for hockey. The game was a way for kids to experience hockey even if they knew nothing about it. I took the time to see how many others were affected by the game as much as I was.
I was not surprised to see that other hockey fans my age were just as influenced by NHL 94 as I was. Even though the NHL is in turmoil at the moment, we can never forget the good memories its given us as well as the ability to create joy among friends — whether it’s in the virtual or the real world.