“NHL 12” cover star Steven Stamkos downplays his gaming abilities

TORONTO – Steven Stamkos might be on the cover of EA Sports’ “NHL 12,” but when it comes to playing the latest video game in the popular franchise, he admits he can’t compete with some of his Tampa Bay teammates.

“Ryan Malone’s a pretty good gamer,” Stamkos said while in Toronto with former superstar Jeremy Roenick to promote the game’s Sept. 13 release. “I’m just trying to figure it out, but we have fun.”

Stamkos is having a remarkable off-season. In addition to signing a US$37.5-million, five-year extension with the Lightning in July, six-foot-one 190-pounder from Markham, Ont., is the face of the video game every hockey fan in Canada wants to get their hands on.

“When I first came into the league as a rookie I went out and bought the game to play as myself,” Stamkos said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be on the cover.”

Past athletes to grace the cover of Electronic Arts’ Canadian-developed NHL games include Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Dion Phaneuf, Eric Staal, Alex Ovechkin, Vincent Lecavalier, Markus Naslund, Dany Heatley, Joe Sakic, Jarome Iginla, Mario Lemieux, Owen Nolan, Chris Pronger, Eric Lindros, Peter Forsberg and John Vanbiesbrouck.

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While Roenick has never been on the cover, his in-game counterpart was the undisputed superstar of earlier versions of the game, and dominance in “NHLPA 93” was immortalized in the 1996 Vince Vaughan movie “Swingers.”

“These video games over the last 10 years have educated more people about hockey than maybe hockey itself,” Roenick said.

While EA’s games will probably not be used as a coaching tool any time soon, Stamkos did tout the franchise’s realism.

“You definitely get to learn a lot about some of the players you don’t get to see on a regular basis,” he said. “Some of their tendencies, the gear that they wear out on the ice … it’s such a realistic game.”