From 'pipe dream' to Texas-sized Winter Classic: Stars set to host Predators
80,000 fans expected at historic Cotton Bowl Stadium for New Year's Day game
Welcome to a Texas-sized NHL Winter Classic.
The annual showcase is going to be one big outdoor game when the Dallas Stars host the Nashville Predators at the historic Cotton Bowl Stadium on Wednesday (2 p.m. ET) even without "Big Tex" booming out the customary "Howdy, folks!" that visitors to the State Fair of Texas hear each fall.
More than 84,000 fans are expected for the NHL's 12th New Year's Day game, this one at the stadium where the boots belonging to the fair's iconic 55-foot talking cowboy will be rinkside near an oversized, ranch-style entry arch. It is expected to be the second-largest crowd ever for an NHL game.
The largest crowd to see an NHL game was 105,491 at Michigan Stadium six years ago when Toronto beat Detroit in a shootout at the Winter Classic. A crowd of 76,126 was at Notre Dame Stadium last New Year's Day when Boston beat Chicago, 4-2.
NHL officials said about 20,000 tickets have been purchased by fans for the visiting Predators, whose jerseys were inspired by the 1960s and 1970s jerseys of the Dixie Flyers, the first minor league hockey team in Nashville.
"It started as a bit of a pipe dream," said Stars CEO Jim Lites, whose team hosted its first NHL draft in 2018 at its arena only a few kilometres from the Cotton Bowl.
Game will 'have a good feel'
Now an NHL game is being played inside the stadium that is home to the annual Red River college football rivalry game between Texas and Oklahoma that has been played during the State Fair for 90 years. The Cotton Bowl game was played there each New Year's Day until a decade ago, and the Dallas Cowboys called it home for their first 12 seasons, from 1960-71.
"It'll be a nice venue, have a good feel, and everybody in Texas and this area, they know about the Cotton Bowl," Stars centre Joe Pavelski said. "I think that's a big draw as well, come see something different there."
Pavelski signed with Dallas as a free agent last summer after his first 13 NHL seasons with the San Jose Sharks, who hosted the Los Angeles Kings in a Stadium Series game at the home stadium of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers in 2015.
The ultimate prize Wednesday will be the two points for the winner between the two teams that met in a first-round playoff series last April that the Stars won in six games. Both are coming off distinctly different back-to-back games.
Nashville had 5-2 and 6-4 losses to Pittsburgh, with goalie Pekka Rinne pulled from the first game and Jusse Saros yanked from the second. The Predators, after adding free agent forward Matt Duchene last off-season, are 11th in the Western Conference standings.
Dallas, hitting the halfway point of its regular season that began with a horrendous 1-7-1 start, is third in the conference after consecutive comeback wins (over Colorado and Arizona).
Outdoor game debut for Stars coach Bowness
"It shows great character of our team that we are able to come back. This is a tough league and it's not going to happen every night that you can come back in the third period," Stars interim head coach Rick Bowness said. "We do not want to do this again on Jan. 1. If we have to, we know we can."
This is something that my dad would absolutely love.— Stars interim head coach Rick Bowness on Wednesday's outdoor game at Cotton Bowl Stadium
The Stars are 5-3-1 since second-year head coach Jim Montgomery was fired Dec. 10 for unspecified unprofessional conduct.
"We didn't have a lot of rinks back then. So if you wanted to play hockey, you skated outside," Bowness said. "This is something that my dad would absolutely love."
The Stars will wear green and white jerseys with elements of the 1993-94 Stars, the first season in Dallas, and the 1945-46 USHA Dallas Texans, the first minor league team in Dallas.
Weekend rain and temperatures near 20C created quite a puddle at the Cotton Bowl, forcing crews to redo logos and lines. It has cooled off since then and it could be near freezing overnight into New Year's Day.
Conditions at game time were forecast to be cloudy with temperatures around 10C, or about average for a January day in North Texas.