Professional sportsmen tend to be a superstitious lot, and ice hockey players are no exception. Driving the same route to the rink, putting your equipment on in a particular order and whacking various parts of your goalie's anatomy with your stick before the opening face-off are all the norm. Having your picture on the world's most popular ice hockey video game is definitely not part of any pre-game routine, and while it may provide a boost to pocket and ego, it has got to the point where some players may think accepting such an "honour" is an invitation for bad things to happen.
Take Patrick Kane, the posterboy for EA Sports' forthcoming NHL 2010. The 20-year-old right-winger was the second-top scorer for Chicago last season, leading them to the play-offs for the first time since 2002. On Sunday, Kane, who was the first pick in the 2007 draft and voted the NHL's best rookie in 2008, pleaded not guilty to charges of robbery, theft of services and criminal mischief. It followed an incident early on Sunday morning, in which Kane and his cousin are alleged to have punched a Buffalo taxi driver because he did not have 20 cents change to give them.
While a court case involving the previously squeaky clean Kane will have come as a shock, many of those whose pictures have adorned previous editions of this video game will surely attest that such a fall from grace was only a matter of time. Consider: NHL 1999: Eric Lindros played just 71 games for Philadelphia in 1998/99, but still managed 93 points. The season after he appeared as the face of the game, he had the team captaincy taken off him, suffered two major concussions and never played for the Flyers again.
NHL 2001: The San Jose Sharks winger Owen Nolan compiled 84 points and 44 goals in a career season, but followed such heights by managing 20 fewer goals the next campaign. He's never scored more than 25 goals since. NHL 2002: Mario Lemieux returned to the game after a three-year retirement, scoring 76 points in just 43 games. After appearing on the box he played just 24 games the next season as the Penguins failed to make the play-offs for the first time since 1990.
NHL 2003: Calgary's rugged winger Jarome Iginla became a pin-up when he tallied 52 goals and 96 points, both league-leading totals, in the 2001/02 season. His points total fell by almost 30 the next campaign. NHL 2004: Joe Thornton was the first choice for the cover, but a charge of assaulting a police officer saw him dropped by EA. His replacement Dany Heatley faired even worse. The game had only been on the shelves four days when he crashed his car and killed Atlanta teammate Dan Snyder.
NHL 2005: Prior to the lockout, Markus Naslund was among the top four scorers in the three consecutive seasons, but the Vancover winger did not even crack the top 25 when the league resumed. NHL 2008: Eric Staal was the man after 70 points in 82 games for Carolina, and a year after helping them win the Stanley Cup. Before the game was even released he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after spending a night in jail following stag party incident.
NHL 2009: Dion Phaneuf was coming off a brilliant season for Calgary, in which the defenceman racked up 60 points and 182 penalty minutes. He followed this with a 47-point campaign, the lowest total of his career. It remains to be seen what will happen in Kane's case, but whatever the outcome good luck to the EA executives who next year have to try to persuade another big name to associate his mug with their marketing. But, hey, it's only a game, right?