While hockey fans around the world are currently glued to their TVs watching the NHL conference finals, they all know a sad time lurks ahead. In just a few short weeks, the season will be over, and a champion crowned. What follows is months without any hockey to watch, but luckily it won’t be too long before fans will be able to set foot on the ice themselves with EA Sports‘ next installment in their award-winning series, NHL 12. While the previous game seemed to offer the most accurate simulation to date, the developer has now released some new details on changes made to this year’s offering, and apparently the best is yet to come.

EA Canada’s Vancouver studio definitely pushed the bar into next-gen simulation with NHL 11, introducing a new physics engine that turned NHL 11’2 players from artificial recreations into realistically-moving figures possessing real momentum and speed.

While fans of the series may have once again asked themselves ‘what will they think of next?’ it appears that the developers still have plenty of changes to make. EA Sports has finally begun their marketing for NHL 12, and it seems that the misunderstood madmen known as goaltenders will be getting more attention this time around.

From revamped game modes to new venues, the latest details announced should come as a major relief to fans who had feared the series would be slowing in momentum, as the development team is obviously aware of many improvements still to be made.

The first NHL 12 screenshot showed that not only will the NHL Winter Classic be a playable mode in Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, but that physics will also be taken to the next level, bringing every bit of the hockey rink into play. The boards, the benches, the glass, the nets, and at long last, the goalies themselves will all be fair game. While goalies and nets were previously operating inside their very own world somewhat detached from the fast-paced action of the other players, that’s no longer the case.

Players can now run the goalie, and impart the same hits and obstruction on the goaltenders as any other player on the ice, even knocking the net from its moorings, resulting in a stoppage of play if they get a little carried away. Removing the invisible leash tying goalies to their creases is a long-awaited change, and the screenshots prove how one small tweak could change the way some people will play the game.

And yes, you will once again be able to knock players over the boards and into the benches. Check out the newest screenshots now:

It’s strange to think that so many of the changes being brought back were features previously enjoyed, and likely missed as they were left behind in the move to simulation. Flying helmets and shattered panes of glass will be returning as the mark of a truly well-executed bodycheck. And while the previous physics engine didn’t truly take into account the size and strength of certain players, the new Full Contact Physics Engine will grant larger players a better chance of fighting for space in front of the crease.

Whether this means players will be given a bit more freedom to fight for position without being penalized isn’t clear at the moment, but hopefully this move will result in more sastisfying rivalries, particularly in multiplayer. This addition of even greater aggression won’t just be given to forwards, and with players now able to crash the net, it’s only fair that goalies be given the right to defend themselves.

That’s right, for the first time in the game’s history goalies will be able to send a message with their fists as well as their glove. Apparently, if tensions and emotions get particularly heated in the course of a game, goalies will be able to leave their creases, drop their gloves, and invite their opponents to do the same. Hopefully the video game goalies will be more adept at fighting than their real life counterparts, but the addition is a bonus either way.

Singleplayer progression is the star of course, and the new Be a Pro mode will be streamlining the current process of playing your way from the minors to the majors. Currently, players must choose between playing only as their created character -including the time spent sitting on the bench – or staying locked to the same position as their player. This ultimately defeats the point of embodying a single player, and allowing the player the superhuman ability to play an entire game isn’t a solution either.

NHL 12 Goalie Fights

In the new Be a Pro mode, more ice time will be the reward for better performance, and EA Sports ‘Action Tracker’ will let players jump forward to their next shift instead of having to wait. EA isn’t explaining exactly how this mode will work, but it seems that they’re aware of the problems with the current system.

The ‘Action Tracker’ system is also the name given to the new system that will be collecting highlights and key moments, instead of the old system that thanks to a few glitches, would more often than not simply replay the most recent event. If the player finishes a shift with their custom player, and is able to spend their time on the bench being shown replays of their successes and failures with commentary from either coaches or color analysts, that could be a big improvement.

It would be safe to expect something along those lines, with EA Sports once again promoting a newly-redesigned presentation package. The new overlay for The Masters was similarly marketed, and if that’s the new standard for providing a television-quality experience, it’s good news for hockey fans.

While the NHL series has been getting closer to reality where skating, shooting, and visuals are concerned, the one game aspect that has been left behind is unquestionably the goal crease. With these new changes, goalies will be brought out of the crease and into the action, which is a bold step that many fans may not have been expecting the developers to take.

What are your thoughts on the changes? Does the idea of getting to fight as your favorite netminder already have you excited for NHL 12, or do you wish other changes will soon be announced? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.

NHL 12 will be coming to North America on September 13, likely for the Xbox 360 and PS3.