DALLAS — When the NHL introduced the concept of playing a regular-season hockey game outdoors, the joke was, “Until they do it for a Dallas Stars’ home game, I’m not impressed.”
Yes, well, ahem … that day has arrived.
Sadly, however, there is no snow in the forecast for 2020 Winter Classic and the Dallas Stars’ home game at the Cotton Bowl against the Nashville Predators on New Year’s Day.
Per Weather.com, the forecast for the 12:30 p.m. faceoff is cloudy and 57-ish. The ideal conditions for the NHL’s Winter Classic is “Arctic Blizzard.” TV viewers will watch chess if it’s played in snow.
Alas, Mother Nature has betrayed us once again.
It appears the Stars, the NHL and NBC will dodge what could have been a major problem; the forecast for Jan. 2 is sunny and 68. That would have been a disaster, and potentially could have forced the league to move the game to a later date.
“For this event, it’s fine. The venue is iconic and the crowd will be huge. The visual will be good,” said Jon Miller, the president of programming for NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network. “We’ve had plenty of Winter Classics where the weather has been an issue, and this should not be a problem.”
For anyone with a decent memory, and remembers the Stars’ playoff runs in the late ‘90s when their home ice often became a giant slushie, the fact that this franchise will host an outdoor game is one of the more astounding achievements in their history.
When the Stars’ host the Predators at the Cotton Bowl, expect a near record crowd to watch a hockey game.
Event organizers expect over 80,000, which would be the second-largest crowd to witness a hockey game. The record is 104,173 for Michigan and Michigan State’s game played at The Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 2011.
The irony is when the concept of an outdoor regular season-game was originally proposed, 0 people of importance wanted it.
“After (NBC) got the rights to the NHL, I was a broken record pitching this game for two years,” Miller said. “We really didn’t have a buy-in from the league. I asked all of the Original Six teams if they would do it, all but one said no. Buffalo said yes.”
The 2008 game between Buffalo and Pittsburgh was played in a snow storm, which is exactly what was required to draw viewers. There were major issues with the ice that day, but the first Winter Classic was a hit, and after that every team wanted an outdoor date.
For well over a decade the Stars had problems with its ice, even playing in climate-controlled indoors. If the humidity and heat was too high, which often happens in the playoff months, the ice would melt and turn to mush during the periods. Players hated it.
The way around that for the Stars was to propose hosting the Winter Classic at AT&T Stadium. But the Dallas Cowboys’ schedule was likely going to prevent it since it takes two weeks to build the ice.
Once engineers solved the problem of building a sheet of ice that will stay frozen in a mild climate, that created the possibility of the Stars’ hosting an outdoor game. The Cotton Bowl doesn’t have the scheduling problems of an AT&T Stadium, and can accommodate the large numbers the league, NBC and the club want.
In January of 2014, the Los Angeles Kings played a home game against the Anaheim Ducks at Dodgers Stadium as a part of the NHL’s limited “Stadium Series.”
“They figured if they could get temperatures in the 50s they would be OK,” Miller said.
The ice held, and the precedence is set. The NHL no longer needed frigid temperatures to host an outdoor game.
The Cotton Bowl will not be a snow globe, but the Dallas Stars will do what so many have long thought laughable — play an outdoor ice hockey game in Texas.
©2019 Fort Worth Star-Telegram