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Women’s hockey teams to be playable in NHL video game for the first time

NHL 22 getting IIHF World Juniors, men’s and women’s championships

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

NHL 22 will undergo a global and gender expansion starting Thursday, with the addition of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior Championship to the game, ahead of the World Championship tournaments for both men and women, publisher Electronic Arts announced.

The IIHF is the governing body of ice hockey all over the globe, holding multiple annual tournaments featuring national teams from around the world; it also oversees the sport’s presence at the Olympics. With EA having secured IIHF licensing, the organization’s logos and uniforms will appear in NHL 22.

Thursday’s NHL 22 update introduces the World Juniors, the perennially popular international tournament for players under the age of 20. Federations, logos, and uniforms will debut in the online modes World of Chel and Hockey Ultimate Team. The teams will be available in the Play Now mode with the rosters from the previous tournament, which will be brought current as the new ones are revealed later this month. (The 2022 World Juniors will begin on Dec. 26, and the national teams have yet to announce their squads.)

The men’s and women’s World Championship tournaments will both arrive in NHL 22 in January 2022, according to EA’s website.

The company highlighted two well-known stars of the women’s game in a news release: Hilary Knight, who won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics, and Hockey Canada captain Marie-Philip Poulin, gold medalist at the Olympics in 2010 and 2014 and at the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship. They will appear in NHL 22 as part of the rosters for the 2021 tournament, which was played in August. This will mark the first time that full women’s hockey teams — with official licensing for the IIHF and national teams — have been playable in a video game. (Team Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser and Team USA’s Angela Ruggiero did appear in NHL 13 as playable “legends,” but it was just the two of them, not teams. It has been possible to create a female player in the career mode, Be a Pro, since 2011’s NHL 12.)

“The introduction of women’s national teams to NHL 22 as part of the upcoming IIHF content will be an important moment for the franchise in its continued effort to reflect the diversity of the hockey community,” said Sean Ramjagsingh, vice president and general manager for hockey at EA Sports, in the news release. “We are proud to feature playable women’s teams for the first time in NHL 22, alongside the rising stars on the World Juniors teams.”

It’s worth noting that the rosters for all three IIHF tournaments — the World Juniors, and the men’s and women’s World Championships — will likely end up being incomplete in NHL 22. While these tournaments feature many of the world’s top hockey players, eligible athletes who are currently playing in the NHL often do not compete in them, since they overlap with the NHL regular season (World Juniors) and playoffs (men’s World Championship). Instead, a number of the players on IIHF tournament rosters — for both men’s and women’s teams — come from college hockey. And they won’t appear in NHL 22, likely due to the ever-evolving situation regarding compensation of collegiate athletes.

“There will no NCAA players at this point, but we’ll be working closely with the IIHF in regards to having the most up to date rosters as possible,” a representative for EA Sports told Polygon.

The IIHF updates for NHL 22 will feature plenty of big names from the present-day NHL, thanks to content that EA is releasing for HUT and World of Chel. For instance, the new jerseys for the 2022 World Juniors will be available to unlock in the game. HUT players who log in from Thursday through Jan. 10, 2022, will be awarded a card for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews — who has already been named to Team USA’s squad for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing — as well as a uniform pack.

A batch of screenshots that EA released for Thursday’s announcement features players such as Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog (who will play for Team Sweden at the Winter Olympics) and the New York Rangers’ Alexis Lafrenière (who won gold with Team Canada at the 2020 World Juniors, but has not yet been confirmed for the Olympics).

Thursday’s update for NHL 22 also adds two long-awaited features: the option to migrate HUT content from the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One versions of the game to PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X, and the ability to create and share custom rosters.

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