How does one fall in love? If the object of your affection is the sport of hockey, there are many ways. For me, it started on the floor of a dorm room in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Just me, my roommates, a 12-pack of Natural Light — and NHL ‘94. The greatest video game in the history of video games.
I’ll come clean, for the majority of my young life, I watched the great sport of hockey in a manner that most puckheads will hate. Growing up in Los Angeles, I barely paid attention unless my dad was bringing me to the Fabulous Forum. Shout out to the old Forum Club and their wicked strong drinks.
Of course that started to change when Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Kings in 1988. After that, hockey was pushed into a different stratosphere on the West Coast. Still it didn’t capture my imagination until I went to college.
My first year at Michigan, a great way to bond with the roommates was to play sports video games and talk some trash. No, it wasn’t like the famous scene in Swingers. It was far more foul mouthed, and drunk. I had a Sega, and for no particular reason, I bought NHL ‘94 and flipped it on one fall morning. I didn’t go to class for 3 days.
This game became one of the hallmarks of my college existence, and like many, exposed me deep into the NHL and it’s players for the first time. Despite being an LA native, I lived, breathed, fought, and died with the Chicago Blackhawks in NHL ‘94. What Bo Jackson did for football video gaming in Tecmo Bowl, Jeremy Roenick did for hockey. In my agile thumbs, Roenick was unstoppable. At one point in the winter of 1995, the “Roenick wraparound” was outlawed in all ‘bet gameplay’. For those who aren’t quite familiar, there was a flaw in the game where players of certain speed and skill could essentially skate in a circle around the goal and on the backhand — score every time. This was my genius, my nirvana. The guaranteed equalizer. But if there was a bet on the line, the “Roenick wraparound” was outlawed. What were the bets? Typically it was beer — loser buys. There were a few more …ummm… colorful bets. Loser runs naked through the dorm. You get the picture.
I knew every line for almost every team, three deep. Only video games would force a young man to commit to memory the checking line of the Detroit Red wings: Keith Primeau, Bob Probert, Ray Sheppard. My roommate, a diehard Red Wings fan, had a strange fetish for the New York Rangers and … Alexei Kovalev. Like Rocky on top of a Russian mountain, he would scream “KOVALEV!!!” at the top of his lungs when he would light the lamp. Both he and his Russian foil were worthy opponents.
Alas, my gaming days are now over. I’ve played the XBOX, the PS4, and even the ColecoVison. It will never get better than the Sega Genesis and that one game. No, THE game. NHL ‘94. I love you.