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David Littman's Blog: Fondly remembering knee-hockey as a kid

David Littman was drafted in the 11th round (211 overall) by the Sabres in 1987. (THN Archives)

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David Littman was drafted in the 11th round (211 overall) by the Sabres in 1987. (THN Archives)

As the creative director of EA SPORTS NHL Slapshot for the Nintendo Wii, it was my job to lead the design phase and figure out the vision of the game. It needed to be different from the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions as the Wii hits a broader audience that tends to be more family-oriented.

To do this, I simply needed to look back at my own childhood.

Growing up on Long Island, my family was the definition of a hockey family. My parents, my sister Debbie and I lived and breathed hockey. We had season tickets to the New York Islanders. I played goalie for the Oyster Bay youth hockey organization. I went to Providence College hockey camp every summer. My family’s best friends were almost all hockey related. My room had more hockey collectibles than the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Our Oyster Bay team was an all-star squad that played almost 100 games a year. We travelled up and down the East Coast, to the mid-west and to Canada. Our families traveled together: Moms, dads, sister, brothers were all part of the traveling team. Every weekend took us on new adventures. Those trips are still some of my favorite memories from childhood and I still keep in touch with some of my Oyster Bay teammates. One of them, Ward Welles, brought his kids, Cy and Bracken, to a peewee hockey tournament here in Vancouver a few months ago. Ward and I had a good laugh about how it feels to now be a parent on the road trips.

If you are a parent on a travelling hockey team, you know how much fun it can be. You also probably know how much trouble the kids can get into. One of my favorite memories is the many “knee hockey” tournaments we would have in the hotel hallways. Knee hockey is played with a cut-down hockey stick and a sock rolled in hockey tape as the puck. The hotel hallway is perfect, because you can check people against the walls; to score a goal you simply get the puck past the goalies.

The games usually lasted about 20 minutes until a hotel guest would complain. I remember a man came up to us once and asked me who gave us permission to play hockey in the hotel hallway. I said, “The hotel manager said we could.” He said, “I am the hotel manager.” That was the end of that game.

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The cut-down hockey sticks travelled in our hockey bags with us. They had tape on the blades and on the butt-ends, just like real sticks. When it came time to make NHL Slapshot on a video game system that has motion controls, the first thing I thought of was those knee hockey games. A real hockey stick is too big for most living rooms, but a cut-down version of a hockey stick is perfect: The NHL Slapshot hockey stick was born. You can take slapshots, wrist shots, deke left or right and play defense. You can even start as a peewee on an outdoor pond. It is up to you to score goals and work your way up to the NHL.

Since I was a goalie, I wanted NHL Slapshot to be a video game goalies would also love. With this in mind, I remembered another big part of my childhood - playing goalie in my basement without anyone to shoot on me. I would put on my glove and throw a tennis ball against the wall. When the tennis ball would bounce off of the wall, I would make a glove save. These saves would win my team the Stanley Cup. I always thought it would be cool to have a virtual shooter for young goalies so they can practice alone. So, in NHL Slapshot, you can play as the goalie and try to win your favorite NHL team the Stanley Cup.

NHL Slapshot was a really fun game to work on. It brought me back to my childhood where I fell in love with the best game on Earth and made friendships that will last a lifetime.

A native of Flushing, N.Y., David Littman was drafted by the Sabres in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. He spent four years at Boston College before turning pro in 1989. Over the next 10 years, Littman would play in the ECHL, IHL, AHL and NHL (with Buffalo and Tampa Bay). The 40-year-old currently works as a producer for the wildly popular EA Sports NHL series of video games. Read his other THN.com blogs HERE.

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