The following is a part of my list of my Top 10 All-Time Favorite Games. There may be spoilers ahead, so read with caution. Please make note that I rated these games not out of quality relative to other titles but in the order of how much fun I had with each of them and how important they are to my personal gaming history.
When I was but a wee lad of 13 years, my brother kicked me off of the SNES one afternoon to play goalie for him and his friends in a game of street hockey. They had bought a small net and I guess it wasn’t enough for them to shoot balls into an unguarded cage. I begrudgingly turned off the console and assumed the role of netminder, unknowing to the effect this would have on my life.
The sport of hockey grabbed me like nothing ever had since video games way back at age 4. There was a certain satisfaction in making mind-boggling saves and leaving my opponents befuddled. Of course, it was only inevitable that I would also get into hockey video games as I tried to combine my two biggest loves.
I had played both Ice Hockey and Blades of Steel on the NES, and while I had known of the greatness of NHL Hockey 91 on the Sega Genesis and NHLPA Hockey 93 on the SNES, it was NHL 94 that became the proverbial “nail in the coffin” for me and video hockey.
My brother and our two best friends – who are also brothers – were obsessed with the sport by late 1993, and this game only served to further our addiction. After playing NHLPA 93 for so long, the next year’s installment was a huge step up in quality. Players seemed to maneuver far better than previous EA NHL games, and even the smallest touch of having both licensed players AND teams added a huge dimension to the game overall.
In terms of new features, NHL 94 hit it out of the park. This was the first of the franchise to feature one-timers; a quick shot taken directly off of a pass from a teammate. This new tactic opened up a whole new set of scoring possibilities and gave the game a more realistic feel to what you’d see in real life. Playoffs and Shootout modes were also added for variety, but perhaps the most important addition was the inclusion of a few team-specific goal songs. You don’t know real hockey history until you’ve heard a digital representation of Brass Bonanza after scoring with the Hartford Whalers.
While the game kept a basic set of stats on its virtual scoreboard, we took it to a whole new level by keeping track of goals for each player, goalie GAA, and a few other numbers. In the summer of 1994, since these games were yet to feature a “season mode,” we even went as far as to find a copy of the upcoming NHL schedule and create our own “league” play in which we each chose a team and played out the schedule they were given. I fail to remember how far into the playoffs I took my Buffalo Sabres, but I know I enjoyed every second of it. Well, that’s not entirely true.
You see, my brother had discovered a gamebreaker. At first, it seemed to be a fluke. After repeated usage, it became a nuisance. We simply called it “The Spot.”
Basically, you could take just about any player with a decent ranking, skate him just over the blue line slightly off-center, and hold Down on the D-pad while ripping a full power slapshot to score almost eighty percent of the time. Some players in the game were more successful at the technique and, since my brother had discovered this, he was the first to employ it liberally with said players. At one point, he was not against using Sergio Momesso of the Vancouver Canucks repeatedly for this very purpose. Every time the puck would slide through the goalie, he would assuredly scream out “MOMESSO POWER” in honor of the event.
Eventually, we had to take action and create limitations to using this tactic, especially while playing head-to-head games. Future years’ titles would have their own bugs to govern, but “The Spot” would always remain the one that none of us would ever forget. Even to this day, whenever we see a real NHL goal of similar fashion, we all either yell out “THE SPOT” or “MOMESSO POWER” in tribute.
Hockey games have become more realistic over the course of time, and have certainly taken on a more authentic feel, but in terms of fun and satisfaction, I don’t think any of them can compare to this one. It had all the makings of a great game that was easy to pick up and play, and the memories I created with my friends will never leave me. I have yet to have as much fun in a sports game – or any other competitive game – since, and it is those factors that put NHL 94 at the number eight slot in my Top 10 of All-Time.
PS – To this day, I continue to play hockey. It’s probably right beneath video games amongst my interests. It is also the source of my nickname of “Boots,” but that’s a story for another time.