The cover art, featuring Dany Heatley
|Developer(s)||EA Black Box|
|Release date(s)||NA September 22, 2003
EU October 3, 2003
EU October 10, 2003 (GC)
|Mode(s)||Single-player, multiplayer, online multiplayer|
NHL 2004, developed by the EA Black Box studios, is an ice hockey video game. It is the successor to NHL 2003 and is widely considered to be a major turning point in the NHL series. The game adds 3 European Elite Leagues: Germany's Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL), Sweden's Elitserien (SEL), and Finland's SM-liiga. (This is not the first time that European teams are included in an EA game; EA released both Elitserien 95 and Elitserien 96 for the Mega Drive in Sweden only and Elitserien and SM-liiga 2001 as an expansion pack for PC in Sweden and Finland which included those teams.) The ratings of the teams in the Elitserien and SM-liiga were comparable to the NHL rosters, however future installments had the league teams inferior to the NHL.
The game included many improvements to its gameplay (more realistic puck and rebound control and better checking) and game modes (a completely reworked franchise mode renamed "Dynasty"). In addition to the gameplay improvements, one particular non-gameplay improvement was added. When a team wins the Stanley Cup Finals, a large-scale celebration ensues. It included players skating around the ice holding the Cup over their heads. This then led to the common snapshot of the team and the coaches that holds true in the NHL. A "secret" song (Shatterday by Vendetta Red) plays while the animation shows the stats of the players in the picture, ending with the captain. Because of these additions, it was praised as one of the best games in the series to date. The Dynasty Mode, regarded by many gamers, still has its flaws - trades were very difficult to accept, and only allows the player to manage the team at the maximum of 20 seasons.
Another new feature of NHL 2004 was allowing the player to select when to fight, where previously it had been a somewhat random occurrence. When two players' names flashed onto the bottom of the screen, accompanied by the word "Fight!" and a bell sounding, the person playing the game could push a button to begin a fight, or hold off until a later time. Furthermore, goaltenders were able to fight however, goalie fights appear to be completely random, as the names of other players are shown at the bottom of the screen, however, a goalie fight can be triggered by beginning the fight while the goalie has control of the puck; also, goalies are not thrown out of a game for fighting; in real life, goaltenders who fight are given both a major for fighting and a minor for leaving the crease, resulting in game misconducts for both combatants. The game however contained a glitch. On breakaway plays a player can maneuver the deke analog stick for an automatic goal. By the time EA Sports heard news of the glitch hundreds of thousands of units had been shipped around the world. The Create a team feature allowed the player to create a new NHL team and put it in the game and the player could choose between NHL jerseys as the team's uniform.
PC modding community
In addition, a "My NHL" option was introduced for creating brand new NHL teams and players from scratch, adding to the replay value dramatically. Though not very noticeable at times, NHL 2004 included all new graphics. For those playing the game for the PC, the "template" for creating new jerseys, masks, gloves, pants, players faces, basically everything you can edit were all changed. In 2015, these templates are still used.
Apart from NHL 09, NHL 2004 is the only vintage EA hockey title from the 2000s that still (in 2015) receives regular member-based graphics and interface add-ons. NHL04 Rebuilt  is very active online community. It has over 11.000 registered members along with gaming networks.
Online leagues using NHL 2004
The only current PC league known to still host games using NHL 2004 is the NEHL. The NEHL has been around for 16 years hosting various incarnations in the EA NHL series. They decided to go with the NHL04 Rebuilt after plans for NHL 10 for the PC were cancelled. Some matches are also telecasted at their web television, the NEHL Network.
Formx is the current reigning five time champion of NEHL. Formx is the greatest player. On July 11, 2015, Formx announced his retirement from online gaming after being eliminated in the quarterfinals by Valter, one of the best players from Ukraine. The reasons of his retirement were not disclosed. On the same day, it was announced that his successful career (five consecutive championships and multiple other awards) led him to the NEHL Hall of Fame.
Another PC league hosting games using NHL 2004 is European Major League of Hockey, established in 2006. The league accommodates best known European players (incl. NEHL players) from various countries. The league has strong tradition and well documented history, player achievements and league records.
An online simulation league based on the game has been launched, known as the 04HL. Registered user of the site can sign up as an active "player" in the league, and can negotiate their own contracts, skill ratings, and track their player's career statistics with unique team identities and modified graphics.
Cover man dilemma
Picking a cover athlete for NHL 2004 proved to be problematic. Joe Thornton was the original choice but after he was brought up on assault charges, he was removed and replaced by Dany Heatley for the game's first shipments. After Heatley's car crash that killed his Atlanta Thrashers teammate, Dan Snyder, EA removed him and replaced the cover with Joe Sakic but not before a large number of units had already been shipped in the months prior. As a result, both covers (Heatley and Sakic) made it into circulation.
Members from the bands Alien Ant Farm and Gob appear as available players as well as some of the EA Developers. Any player already in the game can be re-created with the same face and portrait and stats.
|NHL 2004 Soundtrack|
|Alien Ant Farm||"S.S. Recognize"|
|The Ataris||"Radio #2"|
|Avenged Sevenfold||"Chapter Four"|
|Bowling for Soup||"Punk Rock 101"|
|Brand New||"The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows"|
|Dexter Freebish||"Falling Down"|
|Dexter Freebish||"Life of Saturdays"|
|Jet||"Get What You Need"|
|Less Than Jake||"The Ghosts of You and Me"|
|Living Things||"Born Under the Gun"|
|Modern Day Zero||"Down"|
The game was met with positive reception upon release. GameRankings and Metacritic gave it a score of 84.79% and 87 out of 100 for the PC version; 84.70% and 85 out of 100 for the Xbox version; 84.14% and 85 out of 100 for the PlayStation 2 version; and 83.75% and 85 out of 100 for the GameCube version.
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