Saturday, October 5, 2013

2013-14 NHL All-Michigan Team

Being an Olympic year, it's nearly impossible to resist the satisfying urge of producing rosters for the participating nations, most namely Canada and the United States.

While that's good and all, I decided to take it one step further when I developed a lineup consisting of players only from the state of Michigan a little over two years ago.

Today, I revisited that topic, sat down and assembled an NHL lineup with the best that Michigan has to offer. So here you have it: the 2013-14 NHL All-Michigan Team depth chart.

J.Abdelkader - R. Kesler - D. Booth
N. Gerbe - D. Legwand - E. Condra
D. Bowman - J. Slater - D. Moss
C. Conner - K. Porter - A. Hall

A. Greene - M. Greene
T. Gleason - J. Wisniewski
T. Krug - J. Trouba
(A. Martinez, C. Fowler, D. DeKeyser)

R. Miller
T. Thomas

I have to say, it would be nice if Michigan could trade away at least one defenseman for a forward or two. In two years, the defensive depth has certainly come a long way thanks to promising youngsters in Torey Krug (Livonia), Jacob Trouba (Rochester) and Danny DeKeyser (Macomb Township). That's something I hadn't expected to find before I started this one.

Mike Modano (Livonia), Mike Grier (Detroit) and Brian Rolston (Flint) are now gone up front, but filling in are Erik Condra (Trenton), Drayson Bowman (Grand Rapids) and Kevin Porter (Northville), so it's evident the depth took a big hit at forward. With that said, Justin Abdelkader (Muskegon) has taken a step up in his game, playing on the top line in Detroit, and Nathan Gerbe (Oxford) looks to be rejuvenated with a fresh start in Carolina.

In goal, not much has changed here as far as personnel goes. But currently, Ryan Miller (East Lansing) is attempting to find his silver-medal form from the 2010 Winter Olympics and Tim Thomas (Flint) – after two seasons off due to personal leave – is trying to find his Vezina, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup-winning form again.

Two years ago, New York seemed to be the only other state that could really compete with Michigan (check the comments in my original post from 2011), but after some discussion with friends and colleagues, it was unanimously agreed upon that the Mitten would win that tilt.

Thoughts? Have you put together an All-State team of your own from elsewhere in the U.S. you want to share? Comment below with it or on the MOI Facebook page!


Saturday, September 14, 2013

NHL 14 Review


The release of NHL 14 reminds hockey fans everywhere that the NHL regular season is just weeks away, and what better way to spend those weeks than with a little virtual hockey goodness from EA SPORTS?

This year's installment brings plenty of changes from NHL 13 in what is likely the series' last installment on the current-gen consoles (Xbox 360 and PS3) with the Xbox One and PS4 set to release in late November.



Presentation

You'll notice right away upon booting up the game that the main menu has been overhauled from previous years. While the structure hasn't really changed much since NHL 07, the menu layout has been simplified in order to remove some of the clutter we saw in NHL 13. Also, when you choose your favorite team this year, instead of the team's lineup scrolling in the background, your team's captain or star player is featured on top of the menu on the left side of the screen, which is a nice little personalization touch.  

Dynamic Player Ratings are a strong addition to the series. While we saw hot and cold streaks in the NHL games of the late-90s and early-2000s, these new player ratings take that to the next level. EA will release roster updates (as they have been for years) to reflect trades and roster moves that occur in real life, but now they will add hot and cold streaks based on real-life player performance. If a depth forward has a big week (think Daniel Winnik in early 2013), that player will receive a rating boost in NHL 14. It should be a real nice touch, but my only concern is how often they're actually updated.

There's also been a small crop of new cyber-faces added to NHL 14 to give more players their facial likenesses, which is always a welcome addition in the name of authenticity. 

In Be a GM and Live the Life game modes, the main message screen where reports of transactions and roster moves were displayed in previous years has been pleasantly upgraded to a more Twitter-like interface. Now, you'll see more realistic messages with information from hockey analysts regarding trade rumors, goaltending match-ups on the day of the game and much more, all complete with hashtags. It's not a groundbreaking addition, but one that certainly adds realism. 

Speaking of Live the Life, this is EA's brilliant reinvention of Be a Pro. Now, your career is more than just playing games and racking up points and trophies. You are fully immersed in the professional lifestyle. Take part in pre-draft interviews, make decisions on whether to go out with teammates after a game when you play the next day, and even see yourself on a billboard in your team's city. On and off the ice, every decision you make affects your career. 

There are four meters relating to affability that players keep track of with each decision affecting these for better or worse: fan, teammates, management and family. You'll notice changes in each of these, too. Anger the fans too much and they'll boo you at home. Make the fans happy and they'll especially cheer when you get the puck and you'll notice more camera flashes in the crowd, too. While most of these decisions you make are mere text prompts, it still adds a role-playing element to the mode, which it desperately needed, and provides a foundation for future titles. 

Hockey Ultimate Team

Not much has been changed from NHL 13 in terms of Hockey Ultimate Team. This mode still remains incredibly fun as a fantasy hockey player's dream. For those not familiar, Hockey Ultimate Team allows users to build a team of whatever players they want, whether they be in the NHL or OHL. Players are bought either on the Auction House or in card packs that you can purchase using real money or EA Pucks, EA's currency earned by playing games in every game mode, offline or online. 

The only thing I've experienced early on that is frustrating is how much money people pour into the game mode. If you're trying to build a competitive team by only earning EA Pucks in-game, it's going to be tough to compete. Ten games in, I faced a team full of first and second-line regular NHLers. Though I consider myself a fairly skilled competitive player, I still didn't stand a chance against a powerhouse like that. But again, you can earn EA Pucks playing offline, which will allow you to purchase the more expensive packs in hopes of landing a Sidney Crosby or Pavel Datsyuk, around which you can build your team and be the envy of the HUT world. 

Gameplay*

The most glaring update to the gameplay mechanics is undoubtedly the new fighting engine. Gone is the first-person, gimmicky fighting of old and here now is the most realistic fighting engine ever in a hockey game. Say you lay a devastating hit on an opponent (clean or not), you may have to answer for it. The fallen player's teammate could skate over to engage you for a fight without your consent. Love it or hate it, that's what happens all too often in the NHL. As far as mechanics go, the crew from EA's Fight Night series stepped in to help develop this third-person enforcer engine. Players square off to drop the gloves with the ref circling and teammates gathered around watching. Users can push and pull on their opponent's sweater, counter punch and even knock out their opponent in one punch.

The hitting has also been improved dramatically for NHL 14 and is probably my most prized improvement from last year's game. No longer will you be skating full speed at an opponent and lower your shoulder into him only to have him fall forward; the physics have been corrected. Now that the players' bodies react appropriately within the boundaries of real-life physics, laying a big hit has never been more satisfying. 

The addition of quick dekes have also made dangling more crisp and responsive. These take less time to pull off than the more fancy dekes of previous years (still included). If you find yourself in tight quarters and need to escape, utilize a quick deke and you'll find yourself blowing past defenders with slick ease. 

I keenly typed an asterisk after the word "gameplay" because the online play is constantly changing. EA SPORTS continuously gathers feedback from gamers in order to improve the online gameplay experience via setting tuner sets that will periodically be available for download right from the game's main menu.

Meanwhile, as it has been in previous years offline, users can freely alter the game's settings to their desire. Everything from shot speed and accuracy to goalie reaction speed is all tunable so players can create whatever gameplay experience they would like when playing a buddy at their house or against the CPU. 

NHL 94 Anniversary Mode

Perhaps one of the most anticipated additions for NHL 14, this 20th anniversary homage to the game that introduced many hockey fans into the virtual hockey world is on point. The vintage blue ice, star icon player indicator and even the old siren goal horn from the Super Nintendo/Sega Genesis glory days. This mode makes the game easy to enjoy for people who haven't played an NHL game since '94. Users can use simplified controls where there are only two buttons to pass and shoot on offense, while those same buttons control speed bursts and checking on defense.  

To top it off, there's no rules so anything goes, making this the ultimate party mode to play with your friends. Let the nostalgia begin!

Soundtrack

I can safely say this is the first year I will not be implementing my own personal soundtrack because this year's tunes are just that good. Tracks from Rise Against, Dropkick Murphys, Black Veil Brides, Biffy Clyro, New Politics, Wolfmother and more capture the grit and spirit of hockey quite nicely. But again, if you find it's not for you, adding your own music in-game is quite simple via the EA SPORTS Media Hub.  

The Verdict?

Plenty has been improved upon from NHL 13. A new fighting engine, improved body checking physics and quick dekes bring a lot of fun to the gameplay. The online gameplay needs some work, but tuners will help find a happy medium in due time. NHL 14 serves as a great sendoff to the current generation of gaming consoles in the EA SPORTS franchise.

SCORE: 9.3/10

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

EA Sports NHL 13 GM Connected Mode

This season, in their latest installment in the glorified franchise, EA Sports has embedded the biggest online dynasty ever seen in a sports game in NHL 13.

In the all-new GM Connected mode, users have the choices of solely managing as GM, manning the bench as head coach, or even playing the games themselves. Not only can you do all that, but you can also play with 29 other general managers, and have at least 20 people on your team to play the games, as well.

Hockey gaming website Crash The Net – a superb community for following all things hockey in the wide world of video gaming – is hosting a GM Connected league that I am a part of: the Dynamic Hockey League.

Thirty names were thrown in a hat, drawn from random, and in that order, users could choose whatever team they wanted to compete as. I was fortunate enough to get a spot in this league, not to mention a high draft spot at No. 11.

With that spot, I selected the Carolina Hurricanes, and thus began me putting on my best Jim Rutherford face.

Since it's looking more and more like we will unfortunately be without an NHL season, I will be bringing you the next best thing: a simulated NHL season with real people trying their hands at the GM position.

In the next post, I'll have my first two-week roundup of the 2012-13 DHL season. Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Custom EA Sports NHL 13 Covers: Michigan Edition

Trouba EA Sports custom coverMiller/Abdelkader EA Sports custom coverMacEachern EA Sports custom coverKrug EA Sports custom coverHunwick EA Sports custom coverMartinez/Greene EA Sports custom cover
Billins EA Sports custom coverSchmitz EA Sports custom cover

The latest news to hit the hockey world is undoubtedly devastating to all fans, casual and die-hard.

It appears we're headed for a lockout in the National Hockey League, at least for the time being.

So, although there's no NHL on television, EA Sports NHL 13 is certainly the best bet to occupy your television screen this season (but keep your fingers crossed for a lockout resolution).

Using some of Michigan's top performers from the 2011-12 season throughout the hockey ranks, I created a set of custom NHL 13 covers for MiHockeyNow that I wanted to share with you guys.

Featured in the set:


  • USNTDP and new Winnipeg Jet Jacob Trouba (Rochester)
  • Drew Miller/Justin Abdelkader of the Detroit Red Wings (East Lansing/Muskegon respectively)
  • Former Brother Rice HS standout and newest St. Louis Blue Mackenzie MacEachern (Birmingham)
  • Boston Bruins forward and former MSU Spartan Torey Krug (Livonia)
  • University of Michigan's Shawn Hunwick (Sterling Heights)
  • 2012 Stanley Cup Champions Alec Martinez and Matt Greene (Rochester Hills/Grand Ledge respectively)
  • Ferris State University captain Chad Billins (Port Huron)
  • Beau Schmitz, captain of the Plymouth Whalers (Howell)

Check 'em out, and be sure to comment below with your favorite!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Free Agent Frenzy: Michigan Edition (from MiHockeyNow)


By Stefan Kubus for MiHockeyNow.com
Now that we’re through almost a full work-week of the free agent madness that comes along with July 1, here’s a list of all the signings that relate to the Mitten.
Former Wolverines star and Michigan native Kevin Porter, the 2008 Hobey Baker winner, signed with the Buffalo Sabres. (Photo courtesy of Trevor Brown, Jr./NCAA Photos)
Kevin Porter – Buffalo Sabres
Porter, former Michigan Wolverine and Hobey Baker winner from Northville, recorded seven points in 35 games with the Colorado Avalanche this past season as a part-time player.
Al Montoya – Winnipeg Jets
Former University of Michigan standout Al Montoya will compete for the backup goaltending job in Winnipeg behind Ondrej Pavelec, after signing a one-year deal and seeing former Jets backup Chris Mason return to the Nashville Predators.
Chris Conner – Phoenix Coyotes
After a brief stint in Detroit that saw the shifty Conner dress for eight games (1 goal, 2 assists), the 28-year-old Westland native will be taking his game to the desert.
Andrew Ebbett – Vancouver Canucks
The 29-year-old Ebbett agreed to a two-way deal to remain a Vancouver Canuck. The former Wolverine has amassed 24 goals and 58 points over 163 career NHL games spent with five different teams.
Former Spartan and Michigan native Jeff Petry re-signed with the Edmonton Oilers. (MiHockey archives)
Jeff Petry – Edmonton Oilers
On the heels of his wedding day this weekend, former Michigan State Spartan and Ann Arbor native Jeff Petry re-signed a two-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers.
Jiri Hudler – Calgary Flames
After tallying 25 goals and 50 points this past season for Detroit, Hudler received a hefty pay day from the Calgary Flames, signing a four-year, $16 million deal.
John Mitchell – Colorado Avalanche
Mitchell will take his game to Colorado after a stint with the New York Rangers this past year. The former Plymouth Whaler recorded 16 points in 63 games in a depth role on Broadway.
David Moss – Phoenix Coyotes
Moss, a former Wolverine and Catholic Central High School product, signed a two-year deal with the Coyotes. The 6-foot-4 Livonia native had spent his entire career with the Calgary Flames, where he posted a line of 61-63-124 in 317 regular season games. In 2011-12, Moss was limited to only 32 games due to injury.
Matt Taormina – Tampa Bay Lightning
Warren native Matt Taormina signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Lightning. Taormina played in 47  games with the Devils the last two seasons, and collected 12 points along the way, after signing with New Jersey in 2010.
Damien Brunner – Detroit Red Wings
The hot commodity free agent out of Switzerland decided to go with Detroit, signing a one-year, $925,000 deal. In 45 games with EV Zug of the Swiss-A league last year, the 26-year-old Brunner registered 24 goals and 60 points.
Jeff Zatkoff – Pittsburgh Penguins
The 25-year-old Zatkoff, from Detroit, signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Penguins after playing the last four years in the Los Angeles Kings organization. In 2011-12, Zatkoff posted a 21-17-1 record, 2.49 GAA, and a .920 save percentage with the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL. Zatkoff played his college hockey with Miami in the CCHA.
Jordin Tootoo – Detroit Red Wings
The Wings were looking to add some toughness this off-season, and they sure found it in the 29-year-old Tootoo. In 2011-12, Tootoo put up 30 points (career-high) and 92 PIMs in 77 games. His five fighting majors this past season should help take some weight off of Justin Abdelkader’s shoulders, who dropped the mitts six times.
Mikael Samuelsson – Detroit Red Wings
The former Red Wing is back for a second stint. Samuelsson, 35, returns after a first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs exit with the Florida Panthers. In 278 regular season games with Detroit, Samuelsson amassed 67 goals and 92 assists.
...
For the full list, check it out here on MiHockeyNow!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Been a while since I've posted!

Sorry guys! It's been quite a bit since I've thrown a post up here, but I've been extremely busy over at the offices of MiHockey. Who would've thought that the summer would be even busier for the website, and providing as much coverage as we've had? ...and we're not even at the NHL Entry Draft yet, where the likes of Michigan natives Jacob Trouba, Riley Barber, and Pat Sieloff are all expected to be selected early on. From a new Jr. A league forming to the USHL and NAHL drafts to speaking with prominent hockey dads like Mike Kesler, it's been exciting around the office, but also very time-consuming. Bear with me here, I'll likely have a post coming in the next couple weeks! -Stefan

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Shanaban: Where’s the Consistency?


NHL Director of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan


Once the puck drops on the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there’s no telling what may happen; it’s a brand new season for 16 teams.
While the playoffs are expected to get nasty at times, I don’t think anybody expected to see the animosity and physicality reach this high of a degree.
We’ve already witnessed brawls in two different series. Disciplinary action has already been handed out to four players in three different series. And we’re not even through four games in most of them.
Those four said punishments: a two-game suspension, a $2,500 fine, a one-game suspension, and a three-game suspension.
I’m going to have you watch each of the infractions. Try and match each penalty to each video, whether you know the actual result or not. I’ll have the answers after.

Ready? Drumroll, please!
Video 1: Shea Weber’s head slam – $2,500 fine
Video 2: Byron Bitz’s boarding major – two-game suspension
Video 3: Carl Hagelin’s elbow on Daniel Alfredsson – three-game suspension
Video 4: Matt Carkner jumping of Brian Boyle + sucker punching - one-game suspension
If you guessed correctly, then hats off to you, because from the looks of it, the man in charge of player safety and league discipline – Brendan Shanahan – just spun a wheel to hand out these punishments.
The above videos were posted in the order of which they occurred. Original suspensions and fines on actions should, without a doubt, set precedents should further incidents similar to those occur. It’s a simple system based on law and justice. If we can agree on that, then I see no reason why Hagelin gets suspended three games for the elbow, Carkner gets only one for sucker punching a player who is down on the ice, Weber gets a slap on the wrist.
The biggest problem we are seeing is consistency. What qualifies as a “head shot”? What constitutes a three-game suspension versus a five-game suspension if it’s the same type of infraction? Why does Weber receive a fine equivalent of a $23 parking ticket for somebody who makes $70,000/year, while another gets suspended? It’s all very difficult to wrap your mind around. Watch this hit from Chris Phillips (Ottawa Senators), also from the same game as the Hagelin and Carkner incidents.

Philips received absolutely nothing for that. No fine, no missed time. Not even a phone call. Tell me how that is dramatically (no pun intended) different from the Hagelin hit on Alfredsson, aside from the fact that Alfredsson hit the ice, which I will address shortly.
Back to the other two incidents from the Rangers/Senators game for a moment.
Carkner is a known enforcer who plays with an occasional reckless edge to his game. Last season, he racked up a monstrous 150 penalty minutes… in only 50 games – good for 19th in the league (the 18 ahead of him played nearly full 82-game seasons). Hagelin is a first-year rookie that plays on the New York Rangers’ skilled first line, who barely registered 24 penalty minutes in 64 games this season. If player history plays a role in Shanahan’s decision – it has in the past just by going back to his Twitter page and watching past ruling videos – then apparently that was thrown out the window for this “special” occasion, whatever that may be…
So what gives?
I’m stumped on that one, I won’t lie to you.
From Shanahan’s suspension interpretation videos, it seems that whether or not a player is hurt on the play directs the course of action. That’s one precedent that I’m afraid is going to continue under Shanahan. If that’s the case, players are going to have all the motivation in the world to stay down and act hurt (regardless of whether or not they actually are) in order to get an opposing player suspended. And I don’t know about you, but I enjoy watching hockey, not soccer. Unless something changes, you can look forward to watching highlights like these:

Maybe that’s a little dramatic, but I digress. I understand and respect that Shanahan is attempting to crack down on the illegal hits, as he should be, but he’s simply failing miserably at doing so with any sensical judgment. There’s no proper system in line here, and precedents are seemingly nonexistent.
I sure hope somebody has given Colin Campbell a call to apologize for all the grief he was given over this exact same job.