From April 22 through June 2, EA Sports ran a campaign in conjunction with the NHL for fans to decide the cover athlete for NHL 14. They did this in a tournament like with last year's game (NHL 13) and fans could either vote through game's page on NHL.com or on Twitter with a #NHL14(player name) hashtag. With no other major hockey game on the market for consoles plus the marketing juggernaut that is EA Sports, whoever's on the cover will get a considerable attention. This means whoever is on the cover will have their face and their jersey featured in stores, on websites, in magazines, and in millions of homes. So it's actually a bit of power put in the collective hands of hockey and hockey game fans all over the world. As you may or may not have heard, this year's cover athlete could be New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur. The first goalie on the cover of a NHL game since NHL 97. (Feel old when I tell you that John Vanbiesbrouck was on that cover. Yes, Florida Panther John Vanbiesbrouck.)
Yes, the final vote came down between two goaltenders: Brodeur and Columbus netminder Sergei Bobrovsky. EA Sports still has the page up for the finals detailing how they got there. It's rather remarkable in retrospect. In an online vote plus the extensive use of Twitter hashtags, Bobrovsky earned more votes than Patrick Sharp, a member of a Stanley Cup Finals-participating Chicago squad; Taylor Hall, a standout player on a crummy team with a large fanbase; and John Tavares, the ace who helped lead an Islanders squad back to the postseason for the first time in years. Brodeur's path was just as impressive. He garnered more votes than Anze Kopitar, a scorer on last year's Stanley Cup winning team; James van Reimsdyk, a scorer on a stunningly popular Toronto team; and Pavel Datsyuk, the stickhandling wizard of Detroit that I don't know if anyone actually dislikes. The vote's been over for some time now, but both tracks still makes me pause in a little bit of awe.
Sure, Bobrovsky certainly had a stellar year and Brodeur is one of the best goaltenders ever. If we're going based on performance, then Brodeur would only be in the conversation as a legacy pick (and what a legacy it is!). However, EA Sports isn't - it's purely a popularity contest. Sure, neither New Jersey or Columbus fans could be distracted with playoff games involving their team this season. We all had the time to take a few seconds to click a checkbox or tweet #NHL14Brodeur and then do it tens of more times. It wasn't that hard to do. Sure, anyone could vote for anyone so it's possible that Brodeur got some extra love from fans up in Quebec or others who just didn't want to see Brodeur's opponent win. And it didn't hurt that Brodeur, or whoever runs his social media account(s), got involved online along with the team's official accounts getting in on the action. Again, no playoffs make it easier to do other things. Whatever the means or the rationale, these two goalies won multiple popularity contests. And one more win gets their person plastered all over the cover, which will be in all kinds of locations in North America, if not the World.
A common criticism and chiding that we hear or lament as Devils fans about not being a big team or that "we have no fans." The implication is that despite how much success the Devils have achieved, it must mean we don't care so much given that the arenas haven't been filled and the state isn't laden in red with white and black piping. As the Rock gets more and more filled - 2013-14 will be a test - and the team tries to get their name out, the NHL 14 cover vote represents a small victory. the fact that fans voted for Brodeur so many times is a rather big argument against not caring enough. If we're not many, then we're certainly passionate. Enough for Brodeur to beat out a currently-hot team (LA) and two teams with massive fanbases (Toronto, Detroit). The same applies for Columbus fans. It may not be a giant sea change or anything groundbreaking, but it's something.
Should Martin Brodeur be announced as the winner, it would something Devils fans haven't seen in a while: a New Jersey Devil on the cover of any video game. Unless I'm mistaken, there have only been three games with a Devil on the front cover. Most recently, Scott Stevens was on the cover of NHL Hitz 2002, an arcade-style hockey game not unlike NFL Blitz. Before that, Stevens was on the cover of NHL 96, trying to keep a puck away from Steve Yzerman. The first instance was in EA Sports' first hockey game, NHL Hockey. It was an unofficial one as two Devils with their numbers and names removed since EA didn't have the NHLPA license back in 1991. Still, no one else wore red with green and white piping so the two players must have been on New Jersey. It's been quite some time since any Devil got on the cover of a game, and Brodeur would also be the first one who isn't Scott Stevens or unnamed.
It's entirely possible it could happen and the results will be announced soon as voting ended on June 2. In fact, the cat may be out of the bag based on this article by Harrison Mooney at Puck Daddy. Should Brodeur be announced as the winner and he's on the NHL 14 cover, then it's more than just more hockey and gaming fans getting exposed to the legendary goaltender. It's more than just a bunch of free marketing on someone else's dime. It's a mark of success by the Devils fans and others as we helped made it happen. It's another accolade in a professional career filled of them. It's something we, as fans, can smile about. That's something to remember the next time some scrub claims there are no Devils fans or we don't matter or we don't care enough about a team. The millions of copies of NHL 14 with #30 on the cover would suggest otherwise. So while a video game cover may not be anywhere close to what we want from the Devils, it does matter.
And in the case if Bobrovsky does win, it doesn't erase the fact that the Devils fans and many others pushed Brodeur all the way to the finals. At the very least we can be glad it's him instead of a King, a Leaf, a Red Wing, an Islander, an Oiler, a Blackhawk, and, of course, not a Flyer or a Ranger.