“NHL 22” to include women’s teams, first time in video game’s history

US hockey player Hilary Knight celebrates after scoring against Canada during the 2018 Olympic gold medal game
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U.S. hockey player Hilary Knight played a lot of video games with her three younger brothers when she was growing up.

“We sort of lived on ‘NHL 98,'” said Knight. “I always wanted to play goalie.”

Specifically, Knight enjoyed playing as Czech goalie Dominik Hasek. She was even inspired her to backstop her own club team when their starting goalie got injured.

Brianna Decker‘s player of choice was more predictable.

Wayne Gretzky, obviously,” the two-time Olympic medalist said.

For both Knight and Decker – two of the best players in history – there was no option to play as women, even after Team USA won the inaugural Olympic gold medal in 1998.

That will change in January when the longstanding NHL video game by EA Sports adds playable women’s teams for the first time ever. The addition is thanks to a new partnership between EA Sports and the international hockey federation (IIHF) that will also see content from World Juniors and the Men’s World Championship tournament added to the video game.

“It’s pretty incredible that young girls will be able to play as us,” Decker said. “I think this is an opportunity for us to be very visible to younger girls.”

In 2012, EA added generic female players to “NHL 12” after a 14-year-old girl emailed the company asking for better representation. The following year, EA included legends Hayley Wickenheiser and Angela Ruggiero in “NHL 13.”

But the addition of playable women’s teams marks a major step forward.

While both Knight and Decker are anxious to see how they will be rated in the video game, they are also excited to play as some of their teammates.

“To be able to suit up as Kendall Coyne (Schofield) and fly down the ice and pretend I can skate that fast, that will be really exciting for me,” Knight said.

Decker, meanwhile, is looking forward to playing as her longtime friend and current linemate Amanda Kessel.

“She’s super smart out there, can pass the puck in little spaces,” Decker said. “[She’s] such a playmaker.”

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Knight is also hoping the developers pay attention to some of the details specific to individual players, like making sure she and Coyne Schofield are able to rock a braided hairstyle.

“People put a lot of work into game-day routines,” Knight said. “I hope [the developers] get the makeup and the whole ensemble.”

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC