Wednesday July 20th, 2016

It’s time to live your hockey fantasy with EA Sports’ NHL 17, even if that dream means going through some rookie hazing. 

Among the several new features in NHL 17, which launches on PS4 and XBox One on Sept. 13, is living through “career defining moments,” which include the tradition that has become an initiation into the league: wheen rookies hit the ice for pre-game warm-ups before their NHL debuts only to find themselves out there alone by themselves. While this is one of the funnier moments of a player's career, there are no doubt plenty of other highlights: his first goal, first fight, first hat trick, and a rightful send-off at the end of a storied career. The game celebrates all of them in its “Be a Pro” mode in this iteration.

This year’s version of the game was also designed to make the NHL experience more realistic and customizable than ever before, from the action on the ice to the scene behind the bench to the front office moves and even to the arena construction crew. The intention is to give users the ability to live out their hockey fantasies, however they have them.

• Vladimir Tarasenko talks NHL 17 cover, Las Vegas and World Cup

One of the most popular modes in the game, “Be a GM,” has been changed to “Franchise Mode,” and users can now manage the business-side of a team and set everything from ticket and concession prices to promotional nights and even relocation, just in case you’re a little anxious to try out Las Vegas a year early. You'll do it all under the eye of the team’s owner, who you constantly need to keep happy. Once you begin, your arena will be full of fans, but if you struggle on the ice, those fans will begin to disappear. In order to lure them back, you’ll need some promotional nights or lower ticket prices.

Courtesy, EA Sports

But maybe the business-side of things isn’t your thing. How about rocking the red-white-and-blue Team USA jersey or the big Canadian Maple Leaf? The game will feature authentic jerseys for all eight World Cup of Hockey squads. Plus, the game launches just four days before the World Cup begins in Toronto on September 17, so what better way to get into the mood for the inaugural international tournament than by competing for some national pride yourself in the new tournament mode?

Or maybe you like the more intimate settings, in which case, the ECHL debut may be a perfect fit. There’s also the NHL Draft Champions, a fantasy hockey draft mode featuring past and present NHL stars. After building a balanced team, take it to the ice and try to win the “Draft Championship.”

• P.K. Subban showing Nashville he knows how to make entrance

Another unique feature of the game is the arena creator, where you can choose to have flames or smoke shooting out of the scoreboard after a goal, or picking what your team skates out of before the game (think San Jose’s shark head or Dallas’s star) to have the home-ice feel you’ve always wanted. In addition to a custom ice surface and goal light, you can also choose a color scheme for the seats, tunnels and railings of your arena.

Courtesy, EA Sports

Love a team but not their uniforms? Well, you can also create your own look.

But enough of the different game modes and features. What is it like actually playing it? SI.com got a chance to face off against one of the game’s producers (a 5–3 loss in a battle between our Anaheim Ducks and his Edmonton Oilers). My initial opinion is that it’s much more realistic than in previous years. Goalies play more like their real-life counterparts with their stance, positioning and angles they try to lock down. So even though they’ve both won two Stanley Cups, playing against Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick, who is known for his butterfly stance, is much different than facing Chicago Blackhawks keeper Corey Crawford, who is known for his blocking style, and this can give you a feel for the difficulty of adjusting from round to round in the playoffs.

There are also new ways to win a face-off, including deking around the opponent right off the draw. But while you can still beat some of the league’s top face-off men like Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, your timing has to be perfect. Hitting is improved from previous years, as players can now choose whether to close someone off, push them off the puck or lay down a devastating hit. Players also battle in front of the net, where a defender can lift a forward's stick, tie him up or push him out of the way in order to gain the valuable real estate. After scoring a goal, you can celebrate with the traditional team hug or fist pump, or, if you prefer, even do the dab. And yes, rest easy everyone: the issues where several teams goal horns were off pitch last year seem to have been fixed.

If may all be overwhelming to gamers, but there will be an on-ice trainer giving tips designed to help players who are as new to the NHL as Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews will be or as experienced as 44-year-old Florida Panthers veteran Jaromir Jagr.

So get excited, hockey fans. You're about to get even closer to the real thing.

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