Sam Adams leads Spokane Chiefs in "Franchise Hockey Manager" - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Sam Adams leads Spokane Chiefs in "Franchise Hockey Manager"

Sam Adams takes over Chiefs in "Franchise Hockey Manager" Sam Adams takes over Chiefs in "Franchise Hockey Manager"
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For years, I've been a huge fan of the baseball video game "Out of the Park Baseball."  And over the last couple of years, the folks at "Out of the Park Developments" have been kind enough to send me a review copy of the hockey game "Franchise Hockey Manager."
It's not that I'm not a hockey guy, per se -- I love hockey -- but I always seemed to be too swamped with work at this time of year to give the game a try. But that "cold shoulder" to this hockey sim ends today with the arrival of my General Manager alter ego Sam "Ice Man" Adams.
For the uninitiated (myself included), Franchise Hockey Manager 4 (FHM 4) is, according to the official website, "the deepest, most authentic hockey strategy game you can find."  It boasts total customization, so you can create your own leagues, from Junior Hockey all the way up to the NHL.  Or you can play a historical challenge, like trying to duplicate the unlikely run of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002-03.  It's up to you as the GM to make the tough decisions to get your team into the postseason and to raise the championship trophy, whether it's Lord Stanley's chalice or the Memorial Cup.
Of course, as the host of the Spokane Chiefs Insider on SWX and occasional play-by-play guy for the team, I feel obligated to try my hand as the new GM of my favorite local hockey team.  Sorry, Scott Carter, but you've been fired.  Bobby Brett has put his faith in a middle-aged sportscaster who can barely make the turn at the Riverfront Park Skating Ribbon without landing on his keister.
Immediately, I'm welcomed by an email from the Chiefs owner and governor that it's expected that we'll make the playoffs this season.  I'm also alerted by an email that says I made the local news by visiting with some school children.  This, I'm told, was purely a humanitarian effort and not an unconventional method to scout our next goaltender.  I'm advised to look at the roster and depth chart to familiarize myself with the team.  Immediately I like what I see.  I have two top-notch centers in Hudson Elynuik and Jaret Anderson-Dolan, and of course, local Spokane legend Kailer Yamamoto manning the right wing.
When I've played Out of the Park Baseball, I've had no qualms about gutting the team and starting from scratch.  But with Franchise Hockey Manager, it's different.  I'm running a Junior Hockey team.  Many of these guys are teenagers.  And it doesn't help that I know them.  It's one thing to trade a million dollar 30-year old.  It's another to trade a Spokane-born kid who's attending class at Ferris High School.  This makes things especially tough when Zach Fischer arrives to training camp out of shape.  I'm given three choices: (1) criticize him publicly, (2) criticize him internally, (3) ignore the incident.  I take the middle-road, criticizing him behind the scenes, and he thinks I'm overreacting.  So I immediately place him on the trading block.  That escalated quickly.  Sorry, Zach!
Admittedly, the trade menu is a little wonkier than I'm used to, but I finally figured it out.  After shopping my out-of-shape 20 year old around, I receive an offer from just about every team in the WHL.  Without even negotiating, I accept Calgary's offer of the Hitmen's 1st rounder in the Bantam Draft.  I then dive into my first preseason game, and I'm pleasantly surprised to see descriptive play-by-play (not as good as Mike Boyle, of course) and hear the sounds of the crowd (minus the "Go, Chiefs, Go" chants).  I practically jumped out of my seat when the horn blared the first time my team scored a goal.  I'm pleased to report that was the first of two on the night against the dreaded Portland Winterhawks in a 2-1 win.
Another nice feature of the game is the "Season Preview."  At the beginning of each season, you're given a preview of the upcoming season, highlighting the top players in the league, and the top contenders for the Ed Chynoweth Cup in the WHL.  It was pretty cool seeing Kailer's name as a challenger for the league scoring title.
Deciding to move from the snail's pace of playing out a game, I enter sim mode, where the pace picks up considerably.  I watch each day on the calendar unfold, watching the scoreboard as if I was actually on the WHL.ca website.  That includes an impressive 8-0 win over the Winterhawks that sees star defenseman Ty Smith tally 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists).
A quick look at the standings in mid-October has my Chiefs tearing it up, to the tune of a 6-1-3 mark through ten games, tops in the U.S. Division and second overall in the Western Conference.  Yamamoto is leading the way with 16 points and my team is rolling.  But I can't help but think I might have been too quick to trade Fischer, who has already netted 4 goals and 2 assists for the Hitmen since being shipped out of Spokane.
It's unfair to compare any sports sim to Out of the Park (OOTP) Baseball, but comparisons are inevitable, especially when they come from the same publisher.  Absent is a league standings page that lets you simulate as you progress through the season.  In the baseball game, I could watch the overall standings, and the chase for the batting title, home run crown, and ERA title, all on one page at the same time.  With FHM 4, I have to stop the simulation, and jump to a particular page to get caught up to speed.  I'm sure the navigation will get better with time and personal experience, but FHM 4 still has a long way to go to catch OOTP's intuitive and polished interface.  Yes, we're comparing a four year-old hockey franchise to a simulation stalwart that has been raising the bar ridiculously high for nearly two decades. Again, this is an unfair expectation on my part, but a gripe nonetheless.