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Volume 26 No. 206
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Latest NHL Winter Classic Defined By Texas-Sized Crowd, Festivities

For the Stars, hosting the game was the latest step in becoming one of the league's flagship franchises
Photo: nhl
For the Stars, hosting the game was the latest step in becoming one of the league's flagship franchises
Photo: nhl
For the Stars, hosting the game was the latest step in becoming one of the league's flagship franchises
Photo: nhl

The '20 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl was marked by an "unmistakably Dallas environment overtaken by the second-largest crowd to ever witness a NHL game," as 85,630 fans were in attendance to see the Stars defeat the Predators 4-2, according to Matthew DeFranks of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. Yesterday's event, which was "meant to be a showcase of non-traditional hockey markets ... and a celebration of fresh blood," quickly "turned into a party." The Stars had "hoped they had acceptable attendance," as initial thoughts a year ago "placed capacity around 70,000 for the game." But months later, the event was "sold out and the league searched for ways to find more seats: uncovering view obstructed seats and opening up rows in the end zones." The result was "more fans than even the most optimistic forecasters projected." NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said, "I know there were a lot of people who questioned whether or not we could sell any tickets for an outdoor game, let alone over 85,000." DeFranks notes the "hope was for cooperative weather," and the result was "perfectly cloudy" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 1/2). In Nashville, Gentry Estes notes Predators fans yesterday "traveled, just how we all -- the Predators included -- expected." Bettman said, "There were more people here in yellow from Nashville than would fit in Bridgestone Arena. So that's how well Predators fans travel. All in all, it has been sensational" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 1/2).

FULL-DAY FUN: In Dallas, Scott Bell notes the Winter Classic game itself "didn't begin" until 12:30pm CT, but the "celebration of hockey started much earlier in the day." The Texas State Fair Midway opened up at 9:00am, "giving fans the opportunity to ride iconic rides at the State Fair, eat traditional State Fair food and take part in a number of hockey experiences put together by various NHL sponsors." There were also a "number of performances and attractions to bridge the fans until game time," such as a "mechanical bull and a number of State Fair-inspired animals making appearances." During the game, country music duo Dan + Shay "served as the event's headlining act with a first intermission mini-concert." Meanwhile, the second intermission was "essentially a rodeo," with "cattle roping, horses, sheep, jugglers and more" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 1/2). The CP noted pigs "raced during timeouts next to the outdoor rink," built in the middle of the "historic football stadium and framed to appear as if it was under an oversized ranch entry" (CP, 1/1).

TEXAS FLAVOR: NBC's Doc Emrick during the broadcast yesterday said, "This is Texas, they do things on a big scale." He added, "It is an explosion of sound, the roar of the crowd." NBC's Mike Milbury said, "Every year they've made it better, and Dallas is showing off ... a great big hoedown here." Bettman noted the league likes to "tailor the experience to the market." Bettman: "This is quintessential Texas. The design of the field, the pig races, the mechanical bull, the music. It's all about the experience, bringing Texas and hockey together" ("Predators-Stars," NBC, 1/1).

SHOWTIME: Stars interim coach Rick Bowness said of the quality of play yesterday, "From a fan's perspective, that was great hockey. If I was out there watching that game and I was watching us on television, that was an awesome game. The whole thing was awesome." Stars RW Blake Comeau said of the game festivities, "It was awesome. You don't really know what to expect when you walk out for the start of the game, but the atmosphere, the fans, everything they had going on with the fireworks, the flyover, everything, was just awesome." He added, "It was nice to have a Texas feel" (AP, 1/1).

MELTDOWN: In Nashville, Paul Skrbina writes the ice surface at the Cotton Bowl, which had "begun being prepared for a week ahead of the NHL's marquee regular-season outdoor game ... melted." Skrbina: "Thanks to temperatures in the high 60s, high humidity and a rainstorm, the league's big stage was reduced to a two-inch puddle of water." Logos and lines were "not painted onto the ice," but rather were "fabric for this game." They were "removed, washed and reinstalled." The boards also had to be "removed so all the water could be drained." By Tuesday, the "entire ice had been redone ... from scratch," with "seven days worth of work -- and many months worth of planning -- redone in three days" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 1/2).

BIGGER IN TEXAS: The MORNING NEWS' DeFranks noted for the Stars, hosting the game was the "latest step to become one of the league's flagship franchises." Last year, the franchise "helped host the NHL Draft." Additionally, the city and team will "try to coax another All-Star Game to Dallas, and the team is hoping to play internationally at some point as well." Stars President Brad Alberts said that the team "should never act like a small-market team just because they are located in a nontraditional hockey market." Alberts: "It's the biggest event that this franchise will ever do. I can't imagine anything bigger. We were in bankruptcy 10 years ago and 10 years later, to be hosting this event, I think is a statement about where the Dallas Stars have been and where we're going" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 1/1).