As part of a new brand, ESPN NHL Hockey follows a similar format as the rest of Sega's sports lineup for 2003, emphasizing the ESPN style of presentation to make players feel like they are watching a televised game. The visuals and audio feature the same music cues, overlays, box scores, and other distinctive elements that help set ESPN apart from other networks' sports coverage. A new
graphic engine allows for more detailed player models and faces as well as redesigned arenas and uniforms.
Strategy-oriented fans will be able to pin athletes against the boards to slow the game down, wear opponents out, or tie up the puck long enough for the referee to blow the whistle. Special attention was paid to improving the checking animations on the open ice, against the boards, and even over the boards if a player has built enough momentum before the hit. Management decisions take place within a 3D front office, where would-be owners can build a team by wheeling and
dealing for star players, scouting the minors for a diamond in the rough, and by cutting loose overpaid or unproductive veterans.
In addition to the full lineup of NHL teams and players for the 2003-2004 season, ESPN NHL Hockey includes 14 international teams as well as larger rink sizes in accordance
international hockey rules. Historic teams from the NHL's past are also on offer, featuring vintage jerseys from different eras, as players take their favorite squad through tournaments, exhibition games, or a customized playoffs bracket. As with other titles in sega
Sports' 2003 series, ESPN NHL Hockey supports the PlayStation 2 Network Adaptor for head-to-head competition complete with online stat tracking and record keeping.