Every summer, video game giant Electronic Arts (EA) Sports presents the athlete who will be featured on the cover of their NHL video game; Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, P.K. Subban, and Vladamir Tarasenko have all graced the cover. Many fans have criticized the game for failing to evolve with the times. The cover has always represented an NHL player in a playing stance with their helmet on. This year, NHL 23 finally changed that.
Zegras & Nurse Take the Game Outdoors
On the streets of Southern California, Trevor Zegras and Sarah Nurse posed for the cover. In shorts with their flow waving in the wind, the face of the league and a superstar women’s player made history. Instead of dressing them in equipment that more than half of the gamers don’t wear, they are dressed for street hockey.
The league has made an effort to support street hockey and market it as a way to play the game without the expensive costs of equipment and ice. If you only needed a stick, puck, and net, hockey would be more popular in the States. Instead, parents sign their kids up for basketball and soccer instead of spending thousands on hockey gear each year.
Zegras has the perfect persona and good looks to initiate a love of street hockey in the perfect place, Southern California. In the video game, we’ve been able to play a street-hockey-style game in Threes Mode. Now, it graces the cover.
Nurse & Zegras: Born for the Cover
The sport has also promoted the woman’s game in the last couple of years. Sarah Nurse put up 18 points in 7 games on Team Canada’s trek to the gold medal at the Olympics in February. She comes from a family of athletes: her cousin is Darnell Nurse of the Edmonton Oilers, her uncle is former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb, and another cousin is Kia Nurse of the WNBA. She is a recognizable face in Canada, and coming off her record-setting performance at the Olympics and Canada’s quest for a gold medal at the World Championships, she was the perfect candidate for the cover.
As for Zegras, he was destined to be on the cover, but some were surprised it was so soon. After his first full season with the Anaheim Ducks, he has become a recognizable face in the NHL at just 21 years old. Whether it be the Michigan Move or the over-the-net pass, he has made the real game look like a video game, and EA added those moves to their game, with Zegras’ character perfecting them in the promotional trailer.
EA Sports Marketing
This cover, with a young star and a Black woman, should attract more people to the sport. Ethnic diversity and women have largely been absent from hockey advertising, especially in the United States. Brianna Decker is not half the celebrity Nurse or Marie Phillippe-Poulin are in Canada. Nurse is sending the message that no matter your ethnic background or gender, you can play hockey at the highest level.
As for Zegras, younger generations have been connecting with sports through highlights more and more in recent years. The best example of this is his highlight, which garnered so much attention:
Zegras flips the puck over the top of the back of the net to Sonny Milano, who whacks it out of the air for a goal. It is one of the greatest highlights the NHL has ever seen. With over 3 million views on Twitter and a re-post from actor Michael B. Jordan on Instagram, this clip made him an instant superstar.
The NHL has never been great at marketing its young stars. In fairness, All-Stars like Sidney Crosby or Jonathon Toews never had the personality for the spotlight that Zegras does. He has quickly become one of the most popular players in the league because of his talent and outgoing nature. He was the right choice as a star for the future.
Will EA’s NHL 23 Be an Improvement?
This is the ultimate question for those who still have that awkward picture of Vladimir Tarasenko in their living room. Is the video game better for the first time in a long time? The early trailer is promising. The inclusion of power-play and penalty-kill strategies is cool for game geeks who enjoy a well-set-up power-play (me).
It also seems they made the goaltending a little bit more competitive, and it will be interesting to see how people react to the change, as scoring will be a little more difficult. As usual, they have added things to make the game more realistic, such as the fans being more involved in the game and players now holding their sticks when they go for a change, taking away the ever-frustrating pass to the player who is getting off the ice.
But the best update comes right at the end of the trailer. EA has updated puck carrier speed so that the fastest players in the league are actually the fastest players in the game. When playing as the New York Islanders, I should be rewarded for breaking in with Mathew Barzal as opposed to Anders Lee, and it looks like I finally will be.
Sports video games seem to have hit a wall in the past five years. There have been few updates to the EA and 2K series since the drastic increase in graphics in the mid-2010s. Whether it’s baseball, basketball, or football games, gamers have been disincentivized to buy the games because they are more or less the same as in previous editions. Hopefully, NHL 23 will change that.
My name is Chris Hennessy, welcome to my page! I am a recent graduate of Fordham University and WFUV where I covered the Islanders for the 2019-20 and 2021-22 seasons. The experience of being in the Coliseum and UBS ignited my love for storytelling, especially about my favorite team.