Sports and video games have had a long courtship since Pong came out in 1972. Long before Detroit Tigers pitcher Joel Zumaya suffered inflammation in his pitching arm from playing too much Guitar Hero, or Antoine Griezmann celebrated his World Cup Final goal with the “Take the L” dance from Fortnite… there was NHL ’94.

The common conception up until the release of NHL ’94 was that video games were for nerds. However, that notion was finally challenged with a famous scene in the movie Swingers. In it, Vince Vaughn mercilessly trash talks his friend while forcing him to rewatch the instant replay of his goal over & over again and then triumphantly makes Gretzky's head bleed. This one scene effectively introduced to the masses how many people were actually playing video games. To be clear, they’re playing NHLPA ’93 in the clip, but they refer to how they ruined the game because there is no fighting, which was removed for ’94. There is a lot of debate whether ’93 or ’94 is better, but because ’94 had full team and player licensing deals, introduced one-timers, allowed you to break the glass with an Al Macinnis slap shot, and had the brass bonanza theme music; it usually wins out.

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Some say EA ruined the game when they removed fighting from the '94 version.

The game became so popular that Jeremy Roenick, one of the Chicago Blackhawks stars with a dominant NHL ’94 avatar, once said it’s the number one comment that’s made to him still. “… whether it's over Twitter or meeting on the street. Whatever the case may be, I would say one out of three people I meet mention '94 Sega… That still happens almost daily.” - Jeremy Roenick

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Touché - 90s Sega and Nintendo ads.

It’s funny to think that all this love came from work mostly done by a lone developer working in a barn in Maine. Mark Lesser, the lead developer, admittedly knew little about hockey and hired a graphics guy to handle visuals and a sound guy to digitize the organ music. This small team created most of what the game came to be and despite their ignorance, and maybe even because of it, the game was able to succeed. Instead of going for an accurate simulation of hockey, Mark focused on how the players would move and game would feel. He made sure that the players had the feeling of weight to them which made momentum important, just as it is on real ice. Hockey is beautiful and fluid but also imprecise. Passing doesn’t always go stick-to-stick, goals are sometimes messy, and it’s easy to blow right by someone. They created what fans think is a perfect flow to the game and a great representation of how it feels to be on the ice.

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Mark Lesser, lead developer of the game.

The love continues long after it’s initial release over two decades ago. In fact, if you're looking to get Ray Bourque or Alexander Mogilny on the ice again, you can still enter tournaments being played yearly.

Perhaps it’s a silly love for a silly game but it’s often a gateway to a real love of sports and true fandom. There is a reason we can still name the starting lineup of the ’94 Hartford Whalers and why victory will always sound like a weird 70s song with a bunch of horns in it.