About five to 10 years ago, it seemed like an awesome, albeit far-fetched, idea to picture sports games that would allow you and your friends to take on other organized teams from across the world. With the advent of online leagues in FIFA and NHL, this type of online competition has become commonplace. With the EASHL, it's important to be aware of all of the wrinkles in the league so that you don't get overwhelmed by more established teams that have been playing for several years now.
Building the Foundation
When starting your team, it's always advisable to go with people you know who already have some familiarity with the NHL series. Sure, you can go with greenhorn friends who just want to get into the game, and that's great, but you'll definitely want to have a couple of players who are fairly confident when it comes to deking and shot selection.
The game also has a suite of tools that help your club recruit and scout players from around the league, but you'll likely have to try a few games with someone before you'll know if they're a fit. The team I play with, Lando Commando, has had great success by sticking with a close-knit group of friends and then adding on “friends of friends” where appropriate.
If you're just starting out, your online pro will be quite weak in the stats department, no matter which player type you pick. You could buy a boost pack to make your player decent for the first few weeks that you play, but eventually you'll unlock enough boosts and slots for your player to render that pack useless. Most of the boost packs for a specific position are about $6.
Your team should definitely have a healthy mix of player types, with at least one sniper on the wing and some form of playmaker, preferably at centre. Power forwards can be effective hitters with hard shots, but they seem to lack some basic finesse in front of the net. They're a viable option, but only once you've unlocked more points to compensate for their weak deking and awareness. Two-way forwards are always a safe bet, as they have a good defensive loadout — stick checking, shot blocking, hitting — and they're capable of some moderate offense. Defenders should generally stick with defensive loadouts, but a little shot power and puck handling never hurts.
0, 1, 2 – How Many Defenseman Do You Need?
When deciding who to ice against the competition, it's important to be realistic about what sort of teams you're likely to go up against. Often, you'll face three-man teams that occupy all three forward positions, and they'll attempt to push you with an all-out attack. It might be tempting, if you only have three people, to go with one defenseman and two forwards, but often two AI players on defense can actually do a better job. It seems that a lone AI defenseman gets confused when his human partner is going for hits and out of position, which creates more of a problem than if there were just two AI staying in position.
Playing with two defenseman is ideal, if you have the right amount of players, but one defender can work if his forwards stay back and support. This works best with three human forwards, as two can stay up as cherry pickers, and one winger can hang back and act as a rover — providing puck support, covering the slot and creating breakout passes. To be sure, two AI defenders can be exploited by strong offensive teams, but sometimes two AI playing in position can be enough to get the job done.
Manual Goalies: A Perilous Proposition
Let's face it: there's always somebody who wants to play as the goalie on most EASHL teams. The position can actually be quite a bit of fun to play, as you can flop all over the place, handle the puck behind the net, and be a hero on breakaways. The problem is that playing as the goalie can be quite difficult. The shots are quick and difficult to track, and you'll probably get surprised by more than one deke or one-timer in the slot.
If someone on your team insists on playing goalie, it's always good to set your match search for an opposition goalie as well. That way you will always match up against a team that has a goalie, even if they only have one or two other human players. Unfortunately, it's rare to find a match in NHL 12 that favors a team with a human goalie versus one with an AI goalie, but there is the odd goalie out there who can pull it off.
When playing between the pipes, it's advisable to avoid trying to actually “make a save” with the right analog stick. You can use the right stick on one-timer and desperation situations to get across the crease, but it's always better to work on subtly positioning your player to get in front of shots and then press the L-trigger when the shot is approaching to butterfly. It's also good to get in the habit of hammering the Y or Triangle button in when the puck is in front of you in the crease, which will, hopefully, cover the puck before danger occurs. Also, don't get too adventurous outside the net with puck handling unless you're very confident and know what you want to do. Finally, try out one of the alternative camera angles for goalie, such as action or ice. The Be-A-Pro camera is good up close, but you are quite susceptible to one-timers because of the zoomed-in view.
Sizing Up the Competition
There are plenty of options for scouting potential competition in NHL 12, and you'll want to make use of all of them when you get a chance. The leaderboards and club standings are a great way of getting a feel for some of the upper-echelon teams and their records, as are your recent games, which accessible from your EASHL team hub. You can also pause an EASHL game — or wait until the intermission — and take a look at the opposing team and their player ratings. This will give you an idea of how long they've played and what they might be capable of.
Another item to be wary of is the amount of human players the opposing team has. Usually if a team has six human players, it means they're fairly organized. Most teams won't risk a goalie unless they feel they know how to defend properly, and they'll likely have good puck movement and shot selection to boot. If a team just uses all three forward positions, they're going to rely on the AI defense boxing you out and then call for passes when they get any opening. Expect these “called” passes and compensate your team's positioning accordingly.
Don't get overwhelmed by the EASHL. It's easy to descend into frustration and finger-pointing when your team is just starting out, but you can quickly even the odds by sticking with people you trust, scouting other teams properly and preparing for various situations (manual goalies, no defenders, etc.). The rewards of team success are many, so stick with it in the early going, even if you take few bad beats.