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VANCOUVER (Reuters Life!) - Hockey fans who can't wait for the opening of the hockey season on October 4 can jump on the virtual ice today, with new videogames hitting stores in time for the start of the NHL training camps.
NHL 2K9 is the first and only hockey games available for Nintendo's Wii console, and EA Sports celebrated the launch of NHL 09, its 18th NHL game by asking six hockey stars to suit up to capture new moves for next year's NHL 10 game.
Josh Harding, of the Minnesota Wild, Corey Perry, of the Anaheim Ducks, Jeremy Roenick, of the San Jose Sharks, Patrick O'Sullivan, of the Los Angeles Kings, and Drew Doughty, of the Los Angeles Kings, joined NHL 09 cover athlete Dion Phaneuf from the Calgary Flames on the ice, adorned with reflective balls and Lycra suits that captured every move for their virtual counterparts.
"Playing the game growing up I always wondered how they put the player's movements into the games and now knowing how they do it and helping them out has been a lot of fun," said Doughty, the second-overall pick in the 2008 NHL draft.
Sean Ramjagsingh, gameplay producer for NHL 09, said this is the first time EA Sports has been able to assemble this many NHL players on the ice at once for a videogame.
"We really wanted guys with great personalities, great players, and we wanted to have a mix of young up-and-comers," said Ramjagsingh. "These are guys who've grown up playing the NHL videogames."
The Xbox and Playstation 3 NHL 2K9 allows gamers to use the remote like a hockey stick to send slap shots at the goalie. When fighting on the virtual ice, players can grab both the Nunchuk and Remote controllers and get a workout while pummeling the opposition.
The game offers enhanced visuals, including facial hair that grows throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There's also the new Reel Maker 2K9, which jumps on the user-generated content bandwagon by allowing virtual puckheads to create, edit, share and rate in-game highlight reels online
The NHL has revised the sport to appeal to more fans. In a sense, the real sport now echoes the heyday of the NHL videogames on the Sega Genesis.
"They (the NHL) want players to score more goals and make the sport more exciting to play," said Roenick.
One of the new features in NHL 09 is the EA Sports Hockey League, which allows a team of six players to choose a position, including goalie, and then compete against other teams online in league and tournament play.
"It's cool that you can play as your position online," said Perry, who helped the Ducks win the Stanley Cup in 2007." It's kind of like you're playing real hockey. When you're doing that you're going to learn a little bit more about the game and hopefully it will help people."
Hockey has struggled to compete with the other sports but the NHL videogames have sold well enough to sustain two competing franchises.
"Videogames are good for hockey, especially for kids in the states who get exposed to the sport through the game," said O'Sullivan, who is from North Carolina. "A lot of times that's how kids get interested in sports - through something other than watching it on TV."
With such an international roster of players, the NHL videogames are strong sellers around the world. Now hockey fans from Russia to Canada can connect through online games and compete together in videogames.