Although it was already a forgone conclusion around video-game forums, EA Sports has officially announced that Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane will be the cover athlete for their upcoming game, NHL 10.
Kane will be the first Blackhawk to be placed on the cover in the United States since EA began their NHL series in 1991. Tuomo Ruutu was on the cover of NHL 07, but that particular cover was only for retail in Europe.
The representation of Kane comes at a crossroads for the league. With viewer ratings through the roof for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and a return to relevance for a large-market, Original Six team in Chicago, the NHL's popularity in America seems to be growing.
Popularity of a sport can only be boosted by a popular video game. Preceding the ratings boost was the release of NHL 09, a game which garnered the Best XBOX 360 game from IGN, Best Sports Game from Gamespot, Best Team Sports Game from Spike TV—total, the series has accumulated 19 Sports Game of the Year awards over the past two seasons.
NHL 09 had Calgary Flames defenseman, and Candian-born, Dion Phaneuf, a safe bet considering the rabid Canadian following hockey already has. NHL 10 will be going a different direction this year, playing to the growing, cult-like American following.
Kane will be the first American player to grace the game's cover since John Vanbiesbrouck was featured in NHL 97.
The announcement also comes after the Blackhawks made an amazing turnaround, both in the standings and in attendance numbers. Forbes magazine called the Blackhawks comeback season the "Greatest Sports-Business Turnaround Ever," after leading the league in attendance in 2009.
"I am not familiar with this kind of massive turnaround that occurred in a blink of an eye," says Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp, a sports-business consultancy in the Forbes article. "It's arguably the most remarkable turnaround in the history of sports in the United States."
From the Blackhawks' improvement on the ice to Kane's appearance on what is sure to be one of the most popular video games from EA in a while, Chicago's hockey team is entering the light of relevancy in America again.
What To Look For In NHL 10
NHL 10 will be using Kane to market the new emphasis being placed on finesse and skill players, as Kane will never be mistaken for a banger. However, the inner-Pronger in everyone will be set free in the new first-person fighting feature and post-whistle scrums and penalties.
One-on-one battles are also emphasized in the game, where a kick-pass along the boards can set up a goal and an intimidating check against the glass can lead to mistakes.
Look for fans to start banging on the glass as all this goes on. NHL 10 plans to have the fans play an increased role in the process of a game, making home-ice advantage relevant.
NHL 10 will be released September 15, 2009.