This year EA Sports introduced a unique, fan-centric approach to deciding who their cover athlete would be for their popular NHL franchise. Beginning in April, EA announced that fans would be choosing who would end up on the NHL 13 cover through a voting contest featuring 60 NHL players.
Through several rounds and over 25 million votes cast, the final two athletes were Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators and Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers. Beginning last year, the NHL cover athlete was announced during the NHL Awards in Las Vegas and following Steven Stamkos from NHL 12, this year's winner was Claude Giroux.
"It's pretty special to be in this position, especially that the fans are voting," said Giroux. "To know that you have a lot of fans out there voting for you it's pretty cool. When you're a kid, your dream is to just play in the NHL and being on the cover is nothing you actually think of. You don't think it's possible."
We had a chance to speak with both Giroux and Rinne for their thoughts on the contest and more.
Q. Does winning the cover garner a ratings bump for your player in NHL 13?
GIROUX: "I don't know my rating, but all I know is four years ago when I came in the league I was playing the Flyers and my player was so bad. He was so weak and slow and couldn't shoot. I was so mad at myself. I think I gotta pick it up here."
Who would you say is the best NHL videogame player in the Flyers' room?
GIROUX: "If we're talking about NHL '91, I think [Jaromir Jagr] would win."
Beating Pekka tonight, does this victory become part of your chirping arsenal next time you play Nashville?
GIROUX: "I'm more worried about scoring on him. I scored one goal against him and hopefully I can score more."
Pekka had the support from the likes of Charlie Sheen, Carrie Underwood and Dierks Bentley. Other than your teammates, did any celebrities get behind you in the vote?
GIROUX: "Yeah, Georges St-Pierre was a guy that Tweeted at me. I've always been a pretty big fan of him so that was pretty special to me."
You and Jaromir Jagr clicked very well this season. It came out last week that he's likely going to test free agency. Have you talked to him to try and convince him to come back to the Flyers?
GIROUX: "Yeah, I talked to him a couple of times. I'm not too sure what's going on. I guess he wants to see free agency. We obviously still want him back. He's a good teammate. Just his passion for the game it's pretty special. He's 40 years old, comes to the rink every day with a smile on his face and he's just happy to be there. It kind of gave us a little wake up call to kind of enjoy it a little bit more."
(Here's our chat with Rinne on Wednesday afternoon before Giroux was announced as the winner.)
Who would you say is the best NHL videogame player in the Predators' room?
RINNE: "One of the young guys. Actually, [Shea] Weber plays a lot of video games. He'd be a pretty strong candidate."
There hasn't been a goalie by himself on the cover since NHL '97 with John Vanbiesbrouck. Do you believe there's an anti-goalie bias from the people at EA Sports?
RINNE: "I don't know what's going on but hopefully it changes tonight. It's going to be great to see whatever happens tonight up on the stage. Maybe I can get a cover in Finland."
You received some support from of all people Charlie Sheen. Do you think that was the bump that put you into the Final?
RINNE: "Oh for sure. I felt I got a lot of help from Charlie Sheen, Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley. There were a few other country [music] people who were supporting me. You need all the help you can get."
Reports came out that Alex Radulov will be heading back to Russia next season. Was the entire situation with hi return to the team then the playoff suspension with him and Andre Kostitsyn a distraction for some guys in the room?
RINNE: "I don't think so. I think us players and the coaching staff handled it really well. It was more out in the media at the time. I thought that it didn't really distract us too much. Obviously it would be easy to blame those guys but that wasn't the case. Alex is a huge talent. There were some mistakes but those were handled the right way and it wasn't a distraction anymore."
Have you reached out to Ryan Suter as far as trying to convince him to re-sign with the Predators?
RINNE: "Yeah, absolutely. He knows what we want him back. He's a huge part of our team. I know that it's him and our organization that have to come to terms to continue in Nashville, but our job to just support and believe they get it figured out."
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy