I personally liked Ice Hockey for NES more than Blades of Steel. NHL Hitz was fun but my favorite is still 2002. It was the last one where changing the difficult to hard meant you were going to have challenging games but could still win. I remember playing 2003 and playing on easy and medium was way too easy but hard meant their goalie was unstoppable and you had a worse Vesa Toskala in net. 2002 was just the right amount of difficulty to make it fun and the gameplay was still great.
For some reason I couldn't stop playing Nhl 2004. It was realistic to me at the time and it was the first you could be the GM of your team.
For really old school games, I had NHL STanley cup 94. It was pretty bizarre...You could do this strange "ass check" which I think was supposed to be a hip check and you would rip across the ice. Also the cross check button would get you down the ice in 4 seconds. If you hit somebody good, they would fly down the ice into the boards. I still have never figured out how to score goals in that game! If you get too close to the goalie you fall down
I guess I'm really going to feel like the black sheep here when I say NHL 2K8. The full use right stick meant forward and backward puck controls as well as the ability to stickhandle and skate at the same time, the RB shooting turned the RS into the shot aiming, instead of EA's left stick, and their physics engine is still more realistic than EA's current release. With the addition of 2K's usual comprehensive sliders and an actually correct CBA, better player contract negotiations than NHL 12 ever thought of, and better scouting and franchise controls. They took a big downward slide after that, but that game and to some extent 2K7 were both gold. I don't know why they never got much credit.