As hockey fans well know, the United States-Canada rivalry, in the Olympics anyway, has been a rather one-sided affair. Three wins, three draws for the Yanks; a dozen victories for Team Canada.
That’s about to change in NHL 22. Maybe it’ll get better for the U.S. It could also get a whole lot worse — who knows? Sean Ramjagsingh, EA Sports’ general manager for hockey and longtime NHL series producer, promised to check the game’s telemetry to see which country was in the lead after a huge patch on Thursday brings national teams to the hockey sim for the first time ever.
“Since I’ve been on the franchise, the ask from our players has been, ‘Can we get the authentic [International Ice Hockey Federation] uniforms in the [video game]?’” Ramjagsingh said. To date, the NHL game included national teams, but these were rosters of players developed from current NHL pros for whom EA Sports had a group license to use their likeness. And their sweaters were completely fictional, although the designers had fun making them up.
Getting the real-life national team uniforms would require some kind of agreement with the IIHF, the sport’s worldwide sanctioning body. Ramjagsingh said EA Vancouver figured that if it were going to open the ball on an IIHF license, it may as well go the whole way — giving the studio access to the World Championship tournament branding and complete lineups featuring non-NHL players.
With that in hand, the next step was even more apparent, and necessary, Ramjagsingh said.
“Like, what could a full, wholesale integration actually look like?” Ramjagsingh said. “We talked about bringing the women’s teams into the game for the first time, we talked about the World Juniors Championships as well, which we launched for Christmas. So that’s not really the initial ask, [but] that’s evolved into deeper discussions with the IIHF, and bringing the real national teams to life in our game.”
The women’s national teams will be a franchise first. The NHL series has included women as created stars in the game’s popular Be a Pro mode since 2011 (acknowledging the appearances of women in North American men’s professional leagues going back to Manon Rheaume in 1992). NHL 14 also featured Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser and the U.S.’s Angela Ruggiero as playable individual stars.
The game has not previously offered full, playable teams of women. Now they’re available in most modes of play, including local and online one-off matches; the arcade-style NHL Threes, played on smaller rinks with bigger pizzazz; and the one-on-one shootout mode. The uniforms and logos will also be available in the endless list of customizations for Hockey Ultimate Team and the massively multiplayer World of Chel suite.
“The way we build our gameplay is completely flexible,” Ramjagsingh said, noting that women’s hockey does not allow body checking. “We can adapt pretty efficiently to any sort of unique or specific rules for any league in the world.” NHL 22 already offers rule customization, including turning checking on or off, “so that part was fairly easy,” Ramjagsingh said.
Animating and illustrating the women took a lot of effort, however, especially given the workplace changes as more and more designers are working from home, Ramjagsingh said. “I think the good thing with hockey is, with the equipment over the top, and the jerseys, there’s some differentiation there but we can still get by, given some of the circumstances we’re in.” That said, women do wear equipment more common to their version of the sport, such as helmets with a full-cage mask. Motion-capturing specific animations for the women’s players will have to come later, Ramjagsingh said.
“From an inclusion perspective, a representation perspective, I think it’s probably the most impactful update that we’ve ever made to the franchise,” Ramjagsingh said. But all the new content available would make it one of the NHL series’ biggest post-launch updates ever, too. In December, the game added the IIHF World Junior Championship tournaments, with their national teams and uniforms, too. “It’s a real turning point,” he said. “This is a big one that the team and I are extremely, extremely proud of.”
NHL 22’s IIHF patch is available now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.