Premature Evaluation: Eastside Hockey Manager

As a citizen of Canada, it’s safe to say Paul Newman’s Slap Shot is the single greatest hockey movie of all time.

This is a film so mired in obscurity it’s not even possible to illegally torrent like its thematic cousin The Mighty Ducks, so allow me lay the scene for you instead. Slap Shot is perhaps Newman’s finest work: a comedy from the ’70s about a crappy mill-town hockey team who, after years of crumby results, decides to let their latest acquisitions, three brothers – depicted with glorious thug-moron precision – finally play. The brothers’ savage style of hockey reinvigorates their fanbase and the team is retooled using violence to draw in big crowds.

It’s a wonderful lesson for everyone: Embrace your talents, however impractical, illegal or violent they may be. This is the kind of meat-and-potatoes advice that helped turn Slap Shot into an honourary Canadian sports film and a favourite among the demographic of retirees who like anything vaguely nationalistic, all despite being filmed in Pennsylvania and havinng no Canadian actors.

But it’s a lesson you should follow to a T when playing Sports Interactive’s recently revived Eastside Hockey Manager.

Slap Shot is a story of overcoming failure, and EHM keeps to a similar subplot: The game is to cultivate a team, raising relative unknowns into trained gods of sport before selling them off to one of your manager buddies for millions of that filthy puck lucre.

Quite understandably, it will be a familiar set up for anyone whose spent time with the Football Manager series. EHM is being developed as a side project by the developers of Football Manager following the hockey series’ cancellation eight years ago. Like its Football Manager cousin, it’s a behind-the-scenes look at frontline management where I dash between trimming the salaries of the Charlestown Chiefs to experiencing the minutia of contract buyouts. Also like FM, the learning curve is ruthless.

As I begin, EHM greets me with a message sent to my managerial inbox to tell me just how shitty everything is. “Vancouver hired Emily Gera as their new General Manager to great apathy amongst fans,” says the game. Its subject head reads: “Fans Indifferent at Appointment of Gera.” It’s an underdog story to the Paul Newmanianth degree.

It’s with this in mind, and a limit on expenses, I begin filling my team with the cheapest and most under-hyped French Canadians I can find. Sports Interactive’s aim is to give you every opportunity to chisel out a great team from nothing. They throw information at your desktop like broken hydrant expels water, with a database of around 3,000 players and staff, and a virtually unlimited number of seasons to play. As Manager you can help your chosen team inch toward greatness through salary renegotiations, trading, firing, juggling between star talent and lower leaguers, cultivating young prodigies, scouting foreign leagues, combing reports of individual players.

For the skeptic, EHM is proof there’s complexity underlying hockey’s Drunk Dude Culture, stripping the sport down to its bare and innumerable facts. Even the matches are secondary to the hundreds of micro-events that come before it, which means you’ll spend very little time watching anybody on the ice. Hockey games can be viewed as a top-down ballet on ice where teams are represented as an ever-moving collective of circles. It’s simple stuff, but the mechanisms that run it are not.

Eastside Hockey Manager’s latest patch is a good example: It includes not only graphical and AI updates but changes based on the sport’s constantly adapting ruleset: exhibition games now use the rules of the home team league, while a new NAL rule has been implemented to resume play in an offending team’s defensive zone after penalty. The game features some of the more eccentric rules of hockey that leave stuff like recruitment and salary management eternal head scratchers for me still. Luckily, you choose your own level of involvement, which means your fate can rest in the hands of a head coach and scouts who are usually on-hand to tell you what you need.

It’s a shame, then, that a few hours in my strategic decision to recreate the entire plot of Slap Shot is a failure, but perhaps there’s a lesson in that too. As is happens, overcoming adversity is a concept that’s hardwired into this game.

The fact EHM exists at all on Steam right now is a heck of a surprise. The series started life as freeware developed by a programmer in Finland before gaining traction as a cult hit online among those so inclined. But SI, despite eventually buying the franchise and moving its Finnish programmer to the UK, cancelled it in 2007.

“We were not only badly affected by piracy, we were also hit by the way retail used to work, particularly in the US,” SI said at the time. “Boxed copies of the game would fly off the shelves in places where hockey was popular, but would languish in places where it wasn’t – and there was no system in place for those boxes to be shifted from one State to another. Steam wasn’t anywhere near as popular back then as it is now, so we didn’t have a digital solution to this problem like we do now.”

It’s only through Early Access that the studio has been able to afford regular staff for the project.  It’s a labour of love, in other words. A story of beating the odds. And never has a lesson learnt from a ’70s hockey film rang truer.

*Full disclosure: Slap Shot’s sequel, Slap Shot 2. is a favourite of the whole Gera clan and alumni of the Gera gene pool will be familiar with the happy anecdotes of Uncle Chuck’s part-time job selling pot to the actors on their Vancouver set during production in the early 2000s. I really feel in some small way my family helped to shape the quality of this film.

Eastside Hockey Manager is currently in Early Access and will set you back £9.99 on Steam. I played version 15.1.0b.

30 Comments

  1. ryke says:

    Being from (the suburbs of) Montreal, I feel it is my duty to point out that there WERE a few Canadian actors in Slap Shot, from Québec. Or at least, the only recognisable Canadian actor in it is from Québec. One of the Chiefs players is portrayed by Yvan Ponton, who became well-known for dubbing himself in the Québec version of the film (it was one of the first movies to ever get a proper Québec dub where everyone had proper Québec accents instead of French accents as in most dubs, because of course it just wouldn’t do to dub a movie about violent hockey players without the proper accents and swears) and later had his most memorable role as a referee in Lance et Compte, which was kind of a hockey soap opera. Nowadays, being an actor well-known for portraying a referee, he combines both and is mostly known for refereeing improv events, and hosting a few sports-related shows.

    I hear watching the Québec dub of Slap Shot is hilarious when you know the movie but don’t actually understand French. They made sure everyone had big accents and swore a lot. I wouldn’t know since I’ve pretty much always been bilingual, but if any non-French speakers feel like trying it out, feel free.

    • Gordon Shock says:

      Thanks Ryke for putting the words right out of my mouth. Emily, you make for a lousy canuck, do your research damn it ;)

      As far as I am concerned the French dub of Slap Shot is one of the funniest movie I have ever seen and easily surpassed it’s original.

  2. amateurviking says:

    Despite being a clueless Britisher. I bloody love ice hockey. Lucked out and got to see Bruins v Blackhawks last year while I was in Boston. Awesome. The game was rubbish but there was a fight* and I got a foamy finger (missus) and a sausage onna stick and a bud light (boak) and a jersey that could have accommodated two of me (and I am fairly chunky) and I engaged in friendly banter with some bona fide massholes.

    Most stimulating.

    Er. What were we talking about?

    * ‘ooh just like NHL ’94 on the Megadrive’ I remember thinking.

  3. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    If this comes with uncomfortable bench seats in freezing arenas with bellicose hockey dads yelling insults at the refs while drinking 50 or Ex, I’m sold.

  4. Premium User Badge

    heretic says:

    Ahah I know nothing about hockey but kept reading as this piece was really well written! Hilarious :D thanks Emily

  5. dsch says:

    SI are a studio with an unreconstructed attitude toward piracy but never get called out for it.

  6. The King K says:

    Does a season take as long as in FM? With all those annoying press conferences?

    As somebody whose experience with icehockey is limited to the first NHL game and NHL 2002 (the best one ever), do I need to understand hockey rules?

    On a sidenote, there are several of those torrents you speak of out there.

    • AngoraFish says:

      there are several of those torrents you speak of out there.

      Yep. I’m not struggling to find a copy.

    • Zankman says:

      I’ve jumped in to several manager games of sports I don’t 100% understand (Gridiron Football, Ice Hockey & Baseball) and you can eventually get used to it, fairly quickly even – understanding the stats of each player and what they are and aren’t good for is a bit more difficult, though.

      Also: NHL 2004 is the best hockey game ever, hence why it still has an active and thriving community.

      Also also: When you mentioned torrents, I was hopeful you were referring to this game, not the movie… That’s what I get for being poor.

  7. Robert Post's Child says:

    Slap Shot is the smarter version of Network tucked inside a good sports movie that nobody remembers, despite being better than both Network and most other sports movies.

    Never played any sports manager sims, but interested in trying one at some point. Wonder how much the Moneyball (or its hockey equivalent) style approach come into play with these things.

  8. Faldrath says:

    I would give serious money for a decent action hockey game for the PC. Sadly, EA’s NHL series seems to be quite weak now even on consoles… man, NHL98 was the best fun I’ve ever had with a sports game.

    • Zankman says:

      NHL 2004 is regarded as the best NHL game on PC & possibly ever.

      It still has an active modding community that regularly updates the game in terms of visuals, gameplay and database.

      Look it up!

  9. malkav11 says:

    I haven’t seen Slap Shot, so I make no definitive claims as to which one is superior, but I do think the recent Sean William Scott vehicle Goon (available on Netflix, at least in the US) is a pretty damn fine execution of a similar concept.

    • wyrm4701 says:

      Slap Shot is a classic, and is fantastic. Goon is… sentimental by comparison, and is also fantastic.

      I’m just saying me and my brother may have teared up a bit when the nice guy punched the other guy real good.

  10. April March says:

    I opened this article and placed my cursor upon the picture without noticing the author had changed.

    Nothing came up.

    I was terrified.

    • Hunchback says:

      Alt-texts on a hockey manager sim would be quite tricky anyway, don’t you think? :)

  11. Jason Moyer says:

    Slap Shot is one of the best movies ever, not just one of the best hockey movies.

  12. Hunchback says:

    Why 10 bucks only? I mean, compare to the FM games who sell for full price, this seems quite odd… is it because it’ll lack in graphical quality, or the whole experience is trimmed down?

    • skyturnedred says:

      They don’t even have licenses to use real players yet. Though you can easily get those off the web.

  13. DrollRemark says:

    Did I miss a memo? Is Emily writing here full-time now?

    • Ross Angus says:

      I imagine she is using Rab’s swipe card to get past security, while encased inside a suit which is the exact opposite of that scene in Total Recall.

      • Emily Gera says:

        Gera done gone freelance. RPS have kindly agreed to house my writing occasionally.

  14. Heavy_Z says:

    I wanted to thank you for such a well written article. I honestly created my account simply to do so. I’m not a huge fan of Hockey, but I have had a passing interest in the Manager games. I think I am going to give this game a try this coming weekend to see if I like the game play. Thank you.

  15. Jakob91 says:

    “I begin filling my team with the cheapest and most under-hyped French Canadians I can find” Yeah that’s how the Canadiens managed to clinch three times more championships than any other team back then, while English-only managers didn’t bother to hire any.

  16. porcelain_gods says:

    Slap Shot is a great movie and available to torrent on loads of sites (or buy if you’re like that).

    My brother bought the Hanson Brothers figures years back when we were kids
    link to spawn.com

    Goon is also excellent

  17. rusty5pork says:

    I’m going to have to respectfully disagree: Goon is the greatest hockey movie of all time

    *ducks incoming slapshots*

  18. thegooseking says:

    I might be a Scot, and our three professional hockey teams (the Edinburgh Capitals, the Dundee Stars and the Braehead Clan) might be distinctly less slapshot and more slapstick, but two of my first-cousins-once-removed used to play for the actual Canucks, so hockey is sort-of indirectly in my blood.

    As such, I’m watching this with interest, even though I took one look at FM and decided it was Not For Me. Funny how that works.