Harvard, haters and how to cheat at video games: inside the mind of EA Sports cover model P.K. Subban

The Predators' star blueliner talks about the joy of gracing the cover of his favorite childhood game – and how he silences his critics with his real-life play.
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Image courtesy of EA Sports

Image courtesy of EA Sports

“The rumor is that I’m the best-looking guy to be on the cover. I don’t know who came up with the rumor, but…”

It’s a meta moment, P.K. Subban admiring a giant photo of P.K. Subban admiring a goal. The real Subban sits in a Vegas hotel room, decked out in athletic gear, proudly staring at a bright orange poster, propped up on an easel. It’s a cover prototype for EA Sports’ NHL 19, featuring the image of Subban in the middle of his bow-and-arrow celebration post-goal. Seeing himself gracing the cover, he has to make a joke – he’s still P.K. Subban – but it’s clearly a proud moment for him, too.

Subban isn’t the first black cover model for EA’s NHL series, but he’s just the second, and the first inspired Subban a ton. Jarome Iginla won the role of NHL 2003 cover model. Subban was just 13 when the game came out in 2002, his NHL dreams years away from being realized, and Iginla was a larger-than-life figure. He inspired Subban – but not because he was black. For Subban, at least in his formative years, it was about the person Iginla was on the inside, regardless of race.

“Jarome Iginla was and is one of the greatest players, one of the greatest goal scorers, forwards, leaders, at playing the game and definitely someone that I looked up to, the way he played the game, played the game hard, was an impactful player,” Subban said. “It was really symbolic to see him on the cover and, for someone like myself growing up, playing the game that I love…growing up innocent, you don’t see the color of skin. You just see your favorite players. But, as you get older, you realize what he stands for, and to see myself on the cover, obviously there’s going to be a lot of kids that see me on the cover and may not know much about hockey but may be interested in it because there’s someone who looks like them on the cover.

“And that’s great, but I love Jarome Iginla because he was a 50-goal scorer in the league, you know? Not because he was black. So at the end of the day, it’s about performance, and I think my career and where it’s gone has helped me get on the cover, and I’m really happy about that.”

Not every EA cover model is a gamer, but it’s always nice when EA lands an ambassador who really does know the medium, and that’s Subban. His battles with his brothers, Vegas Golden Knights goalie Malcolm and Ontario Reign defenseman Jordan, were vicious. The Subbans were “rip each other apart” competitive when it came to video games. Forget co-op mode. They played against each other. Subban laughs at the idea he’d ever be above cheating or scoring glitch goals.

“I was cheap,” he said. “I was not clean. I was dirty in the game, I was dirty in the family room where we played. I would use props, whether it’s pillows, mini-sticks around, I’d throw different things at my brothers. I’d hit them with it. I’d kick them. I’d turn the game off if they were gonna win. I just refused to lose.”

The hot new gimmick for NHL 19: pond hockey. Players still have all their typical game modes, but now they can play with a gorgeous outdoor backdrop, calling to mind romantic memories for anyone who grew up playing in a cold climate as a kid. Gamers can customize their looks, with snow pants, scarves, winter coats and mittens to boot.

“You can dress up in your street clothes when you’re playing on the pond, whether it’s tracksuits or sweaters or hoodies and beanies and all that,” Subban said. “It’s so real now. You literally on Christmas day don’t have to go skate on the backyard rink or play shinny to feel like you’re enjoying Christmas the Canadian way. You can play it on your game console. It’s pretty cool, I’m just excited to be a part of this transition, and I think people are really going to like the game. Not only that, like I’ve said, there’s a really good-looking guy on the cover now. It’s a win-win.”

The cover announcement, which was unveiled in Las Vegas Wednesday night at the NHL Awards show, is just one more stop in what has been a busy off-season for Subban since his Nashville Predators lost Game 7 to the Winnipeg Jets in Round 2 of the playoffs. Subban’s time away from hockey since then has included taking a Harvard course, The Business of Entertainment, Media and Sports, alongside fellow sports celebs Zdeno Chara, Michael Strahan and, of course, Subban’s girlfriend, skier Lindsey Vonn. He has a real business sense, more so than most NHLers, and says he understands that an athlete today must be aware of how many different entertainment elements intersect to build a brand. Every interview or social media post, for example, is part of that.

That said, amidst his Instagram posts and jokes about his handsomeness and being on the cover of a video game, it’s easy to forget he finished third in Norris Trophy voting and already has a 2013 Norris. Subban is one of the game’s elite defensemen, but his exuberant personality, which often contradicts the conservative, awe-shucks NHL culture, can distract people – the haters, at least – from what he accomplishes on the ice.

“I would have to agree with that,” he said. “There are times where people like to talk about the personality and the celebrations and stuff like that, but before you can be that way, you’ve got to be able to back it up. We’re not talking about celebrations if I’m not scoring, so that’s the reality that I’m in. A lot of times when people pay attention to that, those people are just sloppy and don’t do their research.

“It’s very easy to say, 'LeBron James has got to control his emotions.’ Well, yeah, but he’s getting emotional at a crucial point in the game, and he already dropped 44 points, so maybe you should talk about the fact he has 44 points, and he’s complaining to the ref because he hasn’t been to the foul line once the whole game.”

Beneath all the fun is always that fiery competitive streak in Subban. It’s what makes him a special player, and it’s what made him obsessed with winning as a video gamer. And we’ll leave it to Malcolm and Jordan to take him on in NHL 19, lest we get pelted with mini sticks and pillows.

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