Strong enough to lift hockey

How often do you find that the simplest of decisions can lead to big impacts?

How often do you find that the simplest of decisions can lead to big impacts?

The National Hockey League is starting its current season already sporting a black eye from this summer’s player deaths, perhaps linked to the long-term effects of brain injury. If a league needed to polish its image just a little, what simple move would accomplish that?

Well, ask a 14-year-old female hockey player. For her, the solution was to have some girls playing alongside men in the NHL.

Not on an official team roster, mind you — although Manon Rheaume has already proved that’s not out of the question. But on the NHL video game, published by Electronic Arts.

Lexi Peters, 14, plays hockey for a team in Buffalo, N.Y. Her brother gets to select an avatar in Electronic Arts’s leading NHL video game, and customize that player to look just like him. He can then suit up, draft other existing players from the NHL game roster and have some fun.

The best Lexi could do was put “hockey hair” on a male player. Obviously, not an optimum choice.

Why didn’t the game include a female avatar that she could make to look, well, more like her?

“I asked my Dad, ‘Why aren’t there girls in the NHL video game?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know, write a letter.’ So I did,” Peters told the Globe and Mail.

Amazingly enough, her letter landed on the right desks, where executives cleared the way in the legal departments in both Electronic Arts and the NHL (simple actions are rarely all that simple), and now this year’s version of the NHL video game — released on Tuesday — has a female player, whose hair and eye colour and other attributes can be changed to look like just about any girl who wants to play.

And here’s the really cool part about all this: Lexi gets to be the default model of a female player in the NHL game. She gets to play the game by drafting a player who looks just like her — because it is her. That’s her digitized photo on the screen. How cool is that?

Today, there are more than 100,000 females playing hockey in Canada alone. That’s up from roughly 5,000 players in 1990, says Hockey Canada, the national body that supervises the sport in Canada.

A couple of Olympic gold medals for our women’s national hockey team might have something to do with that. Almost all of these 100,000 players would have access to the video game, and it’s reasonable to expect that more of them would take advantage of that access if they could play the game as themselves, or even draft entire lines of female players.

The video game market is reported to be worth about $20 billion worldwide. It makes sense that a game publisher like Electronic Arts would want to make their product appeal to as many people as possible.

The same goes for the NHL.

Today, with the league’s top star, Sidney Crosby, sitting out while recovering from concussion effects, with the high-profile deaths over the summer of three NHL players, plus the loss of an entire Russian professional hockey team in a jet crash, the professional side of the game could use a lift.

Shoulders as broad as Lexi Peters have done their part to do that.

Kudos to the people at Electronic Arts who recognized a gap in their product and turned it into an opportunity. And the same to the NHL leaders, who might have simply ignored the issue as unimportant, given all their other distractions.

And hat’s off to Lexi Peters, who did one small simple act and raised the profile of the NHL among females, and of the game in general.

Who knows? Maybe you might meet her in an online game. Rumour has it, she’s on a line with Alex Ovechkin.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.