Anaheim Ducks forward Trevor Zegras and Team Canada forward Sarah Nurse are the cover athletes for NHL 23, EA Sports announced Wednesday, noting that Nurse is the first women's hockey player to grace the cover of its NHL video game.
"It's something that I never even thought was in the realm of possibilities," Nurse, who starred in Canada's dominant gold-medal win at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, told ESPN. "I never even dreamed of being on it. And so I think that it's huge, and I think that it just speaks for where women's hockey is right now, the visibility and the value that people see in women's hockey."
Clem Kwong, lead producer for the EA Sports NHL series, said there had been discussions in recent years about featuring a female hockey star on the cover. The timing was right for this edition after EA Sports added women's national team rosters from the IIHF world championships to NHL 22 late last year, marking the first time women's players could be selected in the game.
"When we started going through the process and looking at the short list of athletes, we were looking for athletes that were on the biggest stage. She's a pioneer in inclusivity and diversity within the sport too," Kwong said of Nurse.
Zegras had a star-making debut with the Ducks in 2021-22 thanks to several highlight-reel goals. The most audacious one saw Zegras lift the puck on his stick behind the Buffalo Sabres' net and pass it over the goal cage to teammate Sonny Milano for a score.
Gamers tried to recreate that move, dubbed "The Zegras," in NHL 22.
"I saw a bunch of videos of kids trying to create it," Zegras, who finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting last season, told ESPN. "Almost like glitching the puck over the net, which was pretty cool to see."
Programmers have created a way for players to execute that over-the-net pass in the game, making "The Zegras" an official part of the franchise.
Mike Inglehart, creative director at EA Sports, sees Zegras as the face of a generation of players who are pulling off "video game moves" in the NHL.
"They're doing stuff where you're saying, 'That should be in a video game first and in the NHL second,'" Inglehart said. "Who knows where it goes? There's probably something that ends up in NHL 24 that we're not even thinking about right now."
NHL 23 will be released on all platforms Oct. 14. Additional information about new features will be revealed later this week.