The NHL Conference Finals begin this Thursday, May 18th. While it’s only a couple days away, the excitement is hard to contain for many fans. If you’re looking to waste time until then you may be playing NHL 23, or perhaps an older title in the series. Until the puck drops this Thursday night, here are what we consider to be the best hockey video games of all time.

5. NHL Hitz 2003

For casual fans and for people looking to get into hockey, NHL Hitz 2003 is probably one of the best games to get into. The two other titles in the Hitz series were also good, but this 3-0n-3 arcade-style hockey game is a must have.

What’s really awesome about this game is its’ franchise mode. You can choose from a wide variety of customizable teams with customizable players. And when I say customizable, I mean you can turn your players into sharks, snowmen, moose, crocodiles, dinosaurs, and more.

You can also play as the official teams as well if you want to see your favorite players decimate your most hated ones.

It was hard to choose between this title and NHL Hitz Pro as both are great titles. If you’re looking to pulverize your opponent, then I’d recommend 2003, as the fighting mechanic was more present and way more entertaining. If you’re looking for something that’s a little closer to the real experience but still exaggerated, Hitz Pro may be right up your alley.

The main difference is that the latter includes 5-0n-5 hockey with the ability to play outside of the stadium at places such as ponds or streets. However, 2003 let you play at wild locations such as a ship, ancient Egypt, a graveyard, a giant underwater complex, and more. They both felt easy to control but Hitz’s fighting mechanic was the staple of the series, and 2003 had more to offer in terms of custom teams, arenas, and player editing.

The NHL Hitz series sadly ended after Hitz Pro, as developer Blackbox was acquired by EA to make official NHL games and other sports titles. The company went defunct in 2013 as they merged with EA Vancouver.

4. NHL 04

Many of the PS2 era hockey video games were great, but we’ll give NHL 04 the benefit of the doubt due to its’ in depth franchise mode (renamed Dynasty).

Gameplay was heavily improved, with control being key. two-button passing enabled for different kinds of passes, such as standard and saucer. There’s also a deeper sense of grittiness to the game. You can even hear bone crunching when checking someone. Fights are also improved and more complex, and you can really feel when you, or your opponent, gets absolutely wrecked.

Despite being an older game, the customization and presentation is actually better than newer NHL titles. You even go as far as to customize your own GM office. And when you win the Stanley Cup, the players skate around the rink in celebration. At the end, they all come together to take a picture with the GM, becoming more like the real thing.

While you can typically play as national teams in hockey games, NHL 04 took it a step further. You can also play as team from three different European hockey leagues like the Deutsche Eishockey Liga.

Overall, it’s a very entertaining hockey game with arcade-style gameplay. It holds up well to current NHL titles, and the modding community still creates content and updates rosters for this game. That goes to show the impact this title had on fans.

3. NHL 94

It would be criminal to make a top 5 NHL video game list without mentioning this one. Widely considered as one of the best sports video games of all time, NHL 94 brought an experience like no other at the time.

NHL 94 added many features that were literally game-changing. In NHL 93 and before, you only played one playoff game before moving on to the next round. 94 added the option to choose from a single or seven-game series. The game also added one-timers, which meant you can meet your teammate’s pass with an immediate slapshot  into the net.

While there wasn’t a franchise mode yet for the series, it’s simple, pick-up-and-play style was reason enough for even non-fans of the sport to check it out. It may not be as complex as newer sports game titles, but it’s arguably more fun than many of them.

The game was also the first NHL game to have both licensed rosters and teams, and included the two new expansion teams (The Florida Panthers and the now Anaheim Ducks). It also had music like the Chicago Blackhawk’s “Here Come the Hawks” theme song and more.

94 is so well received that it received a remake, NHL 94 Rewind, with updated rosters in October 2020. After four generations of video game consoles, it’s still relevant. But that’s not all. NHL 14 included a “NHL 94 Anniversary Mode” to celebrate 20 years since the game’s launch. The same was done for NHL 15 as well as 16’s legacy edition. NHL 06 for the Playstation 2 included a version of 94, albeit a few changes were made to team names and doesn’t have the official roster. It’s safe to say that NHL 94’s legacy far surpasses any other hockey game.


There’s always something about 2K sports games that warrants them belonging on a top-5 list. ESPN NHL 2K5 is no exception, and is a rich experience for those looking for an authentic hockey experience.

The game features an extensive franchise mode that lets you control just about everything. If you’ve also played ESPN NFL 2K5, the menu and layout will be very similar to what you’re used to. Not only can you manage your roster and coaching staff, but you can also send players down the minor leagues if they are not performing well.

By this point NHL Video game controls had been nearly perfected by using analog sticks to control the player much easier. ESPN NHL 2K5 somehow improved the control scheme for both offensive and defensive play, with the ability to adjust mid-game.

Like NFL 2K5, there’s a lot to do and see. Included are a lot of different jerseys from the many teams historical pasts. Nowadays you’re lucky to see your favorite team have a lot of jersey options in newer NHL titles. The intro cutscene shows real-life footage as well as a Sportscenter analyst, all just to get you hyped for what you’re about to experience.

The game also has that nice ESPN presentation style, and minus the graphics, feels close to the real thing.

This would be the last ESPN-branded NHL game, as well as the final NHL game published by Sega. Afterwards, the series would be titled the NHL 2K series, and 2K would become the sole publisher. The overall series stopped after NHL 2K, a mobile game released in 2014 that didn’t last two years on the app store.

1. NHL 13

Getting into more recent NHL titles, NHL 13 was a vast improvement over its predecessor.

The game introduced a True Performance Skating System which added over 1000 new animations. With motion capture technology it’s harder to see the same animation twice. Each team also has their own specific presentation, which can manually be changed in between games.

But the big change was the improvements to the AI. Not only are they smarter, but you can design and implement plays for them to learn. Goalkeepers are now more aware of potential scoring opportunities and are more likely to make that game-changing save.

There was also a GM mode which allowed you to play in online leagues with other friends. The cool thing was that you could check on the league via a mobile app. Players could now also demand trades and be placed in the trade block depending on their overall.

Speaking of overalls, the way players and teams were rated was greatly improved. Players’ overalls were graded based on their skill in their respective position. They were also given a star rating (up to 5) for certain skills such as shooting, skating, and defense.

Gameplay and controls were as good as ever. You can now anticipate shots as a goalkeeper instead of accidentally going for save and allowing a goal.

It’s a great example of how to improve on a previous title in just a one year span. It’s hard to drastically improve a game series in such a short amount of time, but EA did so here.


For more information on the latest sports video games, read more at Clutchpoints Gaming.