Schneider, other stars liven up virtual NHL slate

Thursday night saw a busy schedule of NHL games, with 10 teams in action.

That feels odd to read, because the entire NHL season is currently on pause due to concerns over the coronavirus. But teams around the league have turned to video games to entertain their hockey-starved fanbases safely practicing social distancing.

Five games were hosted on Thursday by official NHL teams, all recreated on the virtual ice of EA Sports NHL 20, with different presentations and personnel involved. Here is Thursday night in the virtual National Hockey League:

THE TRUE SIMULATIONS

Three games on Thursday were played CPU vs CPU. The Montreal Canadiens and San Jose Sharks as well as the Carolina Hurricanes vs. St. Louis Blues were broadcast in full from the game feed. The teams even threw a couple of tweets along the way.

Then there’s the matchup between the New Jersey Devils and Calgary Flames. The Devils not only carried the content load and presented the game, but had the social-media team tweet along like they would a normal Devils game on the ice.

The team had fun with it, even having official team reporter Amanda Stein interview Devils goaltender Cory Schneider (the real one) after the game, a 6-4 Devils win. In response to his 98 save performance on 102 shots, Schneider responded, “There’s games where you gotta give a lot of credit to your teammates. Tonight probably wasn’t one of them with 98 saves. Think we know where that stands.”

On Twitter, Devils defenseman Connor Carrick asked how he did after the game, and after he was given his stats, including 8 shots, he responded, “8? Was I on the PP or something that’s bananas.”

THE BEST vs THE BEST

The Washington Capitals became the first club this season to sign a professional gamer in John “JohnWayne” Casagranda.

The Alaska native was the runner up in the 2019 NHL Gaming World Championship, which is officially presented by the NHL. Caps Gaming announced Thursday that JohnWayne would play select Capitals’ regular-season games, streamed on the Capitals’ Twitch channel.

Thursday, the opponent was the Columbus Blue Jackets. Who better to take the controller for CBJ than the man who beat JohnWayne in the NHLGWC finals to become World champion (and win $50,000 in the process) — Matt “Top Shelf Cookie” Gutkowski, a student at Ohio State University and a lifelong Blue Jackets fan.

This was a rematch of No. 1 and No. 2, only this time they were controlling their respective teams in a best-of-3 series. After JohnWayne took Game 1 5-3, Cookie bounced back and won two games back to back, 6-4 and 6-5, to take the series.

“It was great to chat with John and have some friendly conversation, all while playing competitive NHL,” Gutkowski told ESPN. “John and I are great friends off the virtual ice, but we love the competition we have when we play against each other.”

Columbus will host team tournament finals on Friday night.

THE MASCOTS

There was another Devils vs. Flames game played, this time by Devils mascot NJ Devil, who challenged hockey content creators On The Bench.

“Yea it felt good to get out there on the sticks tonight,” NJ Devil told ESPN. “Had a tough first game, we battled it out got some pucks in deep and put pucks on net, and it really carried over into game 2. From there it was smooth sailing. We had some tape to tape passes, some one-timers, back doors, and timely goaltending from Mac. We even got the Ric Flair pumper mid stream.”

The most refined game presentation goes to the LA Kings and Mascot Bailey. For their matchup against the Boston Bruins, the Twitch stream started with real LA Kings broadcast team members Patrick O’Neal, Alex Faust, Jim Fox and Carrlyn Bathe all recording videos from home either previewing the matchup against Boston or appearing throughout the game. The experience was made to feel as authentic as possible with such additions as player intros and a national anthem. Even captain Anze Kopitar appeared in a video between the action to address the viewers.