We knew NHL 13 was going to be impressive from a technical standpoint, but female gamers around the world have another reason to look forward to this year’s annual release. With the addition of female players to NHL 12‘s player creation system, the developers at EA Sports gave women the chance to see their own gender reflected in a game series that is just one of many sports simulations restricting themselves to male athletes.

With NHL 13, the team takes another step forward, welcoming a brand new batch of past Legends, featuring Hall of Famers Jari Kurri and Doug Gilmour, and veteran goaltender Domink Hasek. But in an industry first, two of the greatest female hockey players to ever play the game will also be included. Hayley Wickenheiser and Angela Ruggiero blazed a trail in ice hockey years ago, and their digital counterparts are looking to do the same.

The announcement comes with no small amount of pride from the development team, who have distinguished themselves as developers of one of the best sports simulation franchises in the games industry for years. Now, General Manger of the NHL brand, Dean Richards, explains the studio’s motivations:

“With the release of NHL 12 we added generic female characters in our Be a Pro mode based on a request from a 14-yr old female fan who emailed our staff because she felt underrepresented as a hockey video game fan…This year we are very excited to continue our effort of creating a more representative experience for female hockey fans by adding two of the greatest female athletes to ever play the game in Wickenheiser and Ruggiero to NHL 13.”

Wickenheiser has also voiced her support of the decision, expressing hope that the inclusion of women’s hockey Legends “will encourage greater participation in hockey from young women everywhere.” The studio could not have picked two finer examples from women’s hockey, with Wickenheiser and Ruggiero defying stereotypes and assumptions for their entire careers.

NHL 13 Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser

Distinguished as the first woman to play full-time professional hockey outside of the goal crease, Wickenheiser was first named to the Canadian National Team at the age of 15, and has never left it in the eighteen years since. A four-time Olympian (3 Gold, 1 Silver), Wickenheiser has proven her skill as not just one of the most highly-decorated captains in Canadian Hockey history, but the only woman to be invited to professional tryouts and rookie camps by more than a few NHL Hall of Famers.

Nothing breeds rivalry like professional sports, and Angela Ruggiero has established herself on the American side of the border for just as long. As a defenseman, the points and accolades from men’s leagues and international competition have not come to define Ruggiero’s success as easily, but the four-time Olympian has been just as awarded in her collegiate career. Having recently retired, it seems fitting that players can now place Ruggiero and Wickenheiser – two figures known for disagreeing both at the rink and beyond – back on the ice once again. The inclusion means both players can be placed on any current NHL team, meaning a Stanley Cup is now within their grasp.

Normally, matching female athletes against male athletes would carry with it a host of issues in a simulation. That’s likely one of the reasons that NHL 13 will be the first to attempt it. But given the new skating and physics systems behind EA Sports’ ‘Next Gameplay Revolution,’ it seems fitting that the tools be used for a purpose such as this. It will be interesting to see how the developers translate the pair’s skills – stickhandling and footwork – into the finished game, but the gameplay footage seen so far looks up to the task.

Not to let Wickenheiser and Ruggiero hog all the spotlight, EA Sports has also announced the inclusion of Legends Jari Kurri (Wayne Gretzky’s partner-in-crime and, at the time, the greatest player Finland had ever produced), Doug Gilmour (the Maple Leafs captain who won the hearts of fans and nearly took the team to the Cup Finals) and Dominik Hasek, one of the most unorthodox, yet successful goalies of the NHL’s modern era. The skills of the players speak for themselves, and giving Oilers fans the chance to put the Finnish Flash back in the blue and orange, or Leaf Nation a chance to relive the glory days is a no-brainer.

The players will need to be seen in action to determine how well the developers have captured their likenesses, but the images released of Hasek are particularly telling. Seen splayed out on the ice, the down-but-never-out goaltender could possibly play more like himself than previous games have allowed. In our talks with the team at E3 2012, it was clear that one of the priorities for this year’s game was increasing the tendencies of digital players to react and behave like their real-life counterparts. It might be too much to hope that the Czech goaltender will be spending as much time off his feet in NHL 13 as would be accurate, we can still hope.

EA Sports is continuing to add more NHL Legends to those already a part of the NHL series’ history, but we hope that the publisher’s other franchises will begin to follow suit. The addition of Wickenheiser and Ruggiero certainly open the door for other female hockey legends, so perhaps fans of Cassie Campbell, Vicky Sunohara, or Cammie Granato should start campaigning now.

NHL 13 will be released on September 11 for the Xbox 360 and PS3.

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