Editor's note: Arda Ocal, an Emmy award nominated broadcaster and the voice of the NHL Gaming World Championship, will be covering the 2019 NHL Gaming World Championship for NHL.com. Here is his first story:
The 2019 NHL Gaming World Championship is underway.
Online play of the EA SPORTS NHL 19 tournament ended April 7. The top 128 players in each console (Xbox One, PlayStation 4) will now be seeded in an online play-in bracket, broken down by three regions: Europe, Canada, United States. Online play-in bracket games will begin Saturday and conclude May 4. The four semifinalists in each bracket will qualify for their respective regional final in either Stockholm, Toronto or New York.
The gamers who advance through the regional final in May will head to the championships set for Las Vegas on June 18.
Formidable players have emerged as frontrunners to punch their ticket to the regional final, including many familiar veterans and some fresh faces.
Here are 10 gamers to watch, in no particular order, as we go into the business end of online qualifying:
Eki (Erik Tammenpää), Finland
The NHL Gaming World Champion last season has not slowed down since capturing the $50,000 prize in June. Eki has remained a widely recognized top player, staying in the top two of the TDI Hockey Power Rankings each month. In tournaments where European players were allowed to qualify, like the Washington Capitals event, Eki made the final and represented Washington in the Chel Classic, where his team (a dream team including Regs and J-Fear), swept the final. Since switching to Xbox, Eki has been on a tear, amassing a 160-2 record and showing no signs of slowing down. Eki might have some formidable company in the GWC from Europe in the likes of xDoumi, Eken and PleeMaker, but Eki remains at the top of the mountain, at least for now.
Hockey Kings (Josh Fuss), United States
If we had to pick the chel breakout star of 2019, Hockey Kings would be the unanimous choice. This season the 17-year-old qualified for four club finals, including battling to the final from a group of 16 in a grueling best-of-1 live tournament in Detroit; taking top prize in an online Xbox One tournament hosted by the Chicago Blackhawks, then hours later hopping on a plane to Columbus to compete in the Blue Jackets grand final. Ask any top player in NHL 19 and they will say "HK" is the real deal and one to watch in the upcoming NHL GWC season.
Josh Fearless (Joshua D'Eri), Canada
One of the top players in any year of chel play, J-Fear was one of the most glaring omissions from the GWC last season. This year he made big statements in club play, earning his first win in the Blackhawks PS4 online tournament, after showings in the Minnesota Wild and Capitals tournaments. J-Fear joined Regs and 2018 NHL GWC champion Eki in representing the Capitals, sweeping Team Lightning in the first Chel Classic in Washington. Many will point to J-Fear as one to make a statement in season two.
Daddy Padre (Tyler Stewart), United States
Video: Former SLU goalie serves as emergency backup
After missing out on the 2018 GWC, the longtime member of the chel community responded with a solid NHL 19 season. Padre started off by winning the Toronto Maple Leafs Gaming Day in October, then went on to qualify for the Detroit Red Wings tournament and became a grand finalist in Toronto. The 26-year-old is the emergency backup goaltender for the St. Louis Blues, practicing with the team roughly once a week. He's the only person in the tournament who can say he faces shots from Vladimir Tarasenko on the ice and in the video game on the same day.
Top Shelf Cookie (Matt Gutkowski), United States
The marketing major at Ohio State University had arguably the most compelling storyline going into a NHL club tournament this season: after defeating a very tough group of players, including multiple champions in online play, he traveled to Nationwide Arena, the home of his beloved Blue Jackets, to play in a best-of-5 final against the breakout star of the season in Hockey Kings, defeating him and taking home the $5,000 prize. The Columbus native is no stranger to the GWC, placing third in the United States regional final last season, narrowly missing the trip to the Grand Finals in Vegas.
Yung Gren (Matthew Grenier), Canada
Yung Gren is perhaps the most accomplished major tournament player in the chel community. In 2018 he took home the Ed Snider Cup in Philadelphia before qualifying for season 1 of the NHL GWC. His dangerous attacking style of play earned him a spot in the Grand Finals in Las Vegas. This year he took home the Maple Leafs and Wild #BIGCHECKS, making him part of the elite champ champ club, having won multiple club tournaments around the league. A focused, mature, seasoned Yung Gren is a top pick in anyone's GWC predictions.
Regs (Justin Reguly), Canada
Regs is the competitor's competitor. Ask any top player who they think is the most impressive player in the chel scene and Regs consistently tops the list. With his sneaky, patient style that often frustrates opponents, Regs achieved champ champ status by capturing the Winnipeg Jets and Capitals crowns. A 2018 NHL GWC Canadian regional finalist, all signs point to Regs having an even more impressive showing in 2019.
JohnWaynee (John Wayne Casagranda), United States
Perhaps the most upbeat personality in the chel scene, the "Alaskan Assassin" took home third last season in NHL GWC and kept the momentum going, launching into the champ champ club by winning the Tampa Bay Lightning and Red Wings tournaments. But don't let the support for his beloved Arizona Coyotes and cute tweets about his adorable dog Carson fool you: beneath that cheery exterior is a chel cyborg ready to destroy competitors and crush their will... all with a smile.
Miviens (Michael Viens), Canada
Another name that was a notable omission from the 2018 GWC tournament was Miviens, and he made sure to keep his name out there this season. He took Regs to the limit in the Jets final, before earning the top spot in his hometown Montreal Canadiens chel event. The 2018 Ed Snider Cup champion is one of the best and more charismatic competitors out there. When Miviens gets his 100 push-ups (may not be 100, but it's somewhere close) in before a game, you know he's ready to win.
Jr. Pens (David Roebuck), United States
The runner-up in 2018 has had a 2019 season filled with ups and downs, but remains a top player and the third most earning competitor in the chel scene. Jr. Pens is the sentimental pick for fans of analytics: a student at Robert Morris University, Pens uses Excel spreadsheets and manually logged data to dive into his game play and make adjustments accordingly. Putting Dominik Simon high on his depth chart is one such example.
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