The idea of outdoor hockey in Texas might seem preposterous at first glance. But, when you consider how far the Dallas Stars have come in establishing themselves in the DFW sports world, it makes sense. And when the 2020 Winter Classic comes into town, it will be time that the city players and city never forget.
“[It’s] effin’ awesome.”
Instead, Bishop was reacting to my question about his initial thoughts on Dallas hosting the 2020 Winter Classic.
“It couldn’t be a cooler experience and it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do,” Bishop added. “And I’m not gonna lie; I don’t think when I signed here that it was going to be one of the things that could happen. But, I think it’s great news. It’s great news for the city of Dallas and the hockey fans here. I think people will get to see how good the fans are here. I’m just really excited.”
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When the Gary Bettman made the official announcement on the morning of New Year’s Day, the hockey world reacted accordingly. The reaction somewhat fell along the lines of, “Okay, that’s kind of cool. But why?” That’s a fair question.
When a typical sports fan, whether living in or outside of Texas, thinks about Dallas, they tend to think of the Cowboys or the Mavericks. Others may even think about the Texas Rangers. But, when it comes to hockey, many pass over or even completely forget about the Stars. Unless someone follows the NHL on a consistent basis, they may very well neglect to even include the Stars in the discussion of professional sports teams in DFW.
It’s not their fault; instead, it simply has to do with how most minds work. Hockey is a cold-weather sport and Texas is known for being a blazing-hot state. The two don’t compute.
But, as Dallas Stars fans know, the sport of hockey is very much alive and well in the Lone Star State. Not only that, but it’s also growing significantly in terms of participation and association.
And on Jan. 1, 2020, the city of Dallas and the Cotton Bowl will host the state’s first ever outdoor hockey game. The Dallas Stars will play in their first ever NHL Winter Classic, opening up new doors to the city, the fans, and the players.
“It’s for sure a big game that you will remember forever and one that stands out in your career,” said Mattias Janmark, “So, that would be a huge opportunity for every individual on this team and for the franchise as a whole as well as the fans.”
“Exciting. I just had a big smile on my face,” head coach Jim Montgomery added. “I had the fortune of [coaching] in a stadium series game with the University of Denver at Coors Field. It was incredible. It feels like a Super Bowl event. The Winter Classic, it doesn’t get any better. It’s gonna be a great event for the state of Texas and hockey in general in the state of Texas.”
The 2020 Winter Classic gives the Dallas Stars a chance to further build their reputation and brand in the Dallas sports market. In a market that is so heavily dominated by the football, basketball, and baseball in terms of dedication and attention, this is a chance to grow the interest. Hockey in Texas is still a strange topic to some, so putting it inside the Cotton Bowl for all Dallas sports fans to indulge in could be a huge step forward.
It’s also an opportunity to show off the growth of the sport in Texas. This is the biggest stage during the NHL regular season and will be the only early hockey game on Jan. 1, 2020. With NBC broadcasting the event, all eyes from the hockey world will be on the contest. With hockey becoming a staple in the youth sports world throughout the metroplex and the Stars gaining a more consistent and dedicated fan base over the course of their time in Texas, it’s time to show that off to those who still doubt the sport’s effectiveness in the Lone Star State.
“I think it’s great and it’s a big chance to show hockey in Texas,” Esa Lindell said. “It’s growing and it’s not as big of a deal as it can be. Football is still huge here and I think that’s the most-watched sport still for Texas. It’s a good spot for us to show what we’ve got and what we can do.”
“I think, obviously, there are great sports fans down here that take their sports very serious and a lot of them are very passionate,” said Bishop. “So, I think everyone will rally around it and it’s going to be a great experience and a really neat atmosphere in the Cotton Bowl. I think it’s got a lot of aura about it that a lot of greats have played football in there. It will be fun to get a hockey game in there.”
That showcasing starts with the fans. Dallas Stars President Brad Alberts has already said that the tickets will be reasonably-priced and that there will likely be around 70,000 seats available. Only one day after the announcement, there were already over 28,000 who had signed up for the ticket interest list on the Stars’ website. That’s a start.
“I think it should do a lot,” Janmark noted. “There should be a lot of hype around it and it should bring a lot of fans to the game. There’s just a big advertisement around it and for everyone who grows up here in Texas to be able to witness that from up close. I don’t think there’s been anything close to it in the last 10 years or whatever. It should be big for the next generation and should make it a lot easier to get kids to start playing and grow the game of hockey here.”
But for the Dallas Stars players specifically, this game is a milestone in their careers. It’s an opportunity that they not only consider monumental, but also an incredible honor.
“Well, I knew about it before, but it’s exciting,” said Radek Faksa. “I’ve always wished to play in a Winter Classic. I’ve watched pretty much every Winter Classic on TV. It’s so much fun, you know? I guess every kid wishes to experience that at least once, so hopefully it’ll be good.”
“Yeah, it’s not necessarily an achievement like a playoff or Stanley Cup game is,” Janmark added. “But, it’s for sure an opportunity that’s given to you that not every player gets to play, especially here. It’s the first time here and it’s rare for this franchise and these fans here to be involved in one. So, it’s for sure an opportunity for everyone involved.”
“I think it’s something really special,” Faksa said. “It’s a little bit different and a little more exciting than the usual.”
It just goes to show that this isn’t just a special event for the fans; the players are just as excited. They are excited to step into an iconic football stadium and add a new and interesting chapter to its history.
For some players, it’s a chance to go back to their roots and play outdoor hockey like they did in their younger years.
“As kids, yeah,” said Janmark, a native of Sweden. “We would practice outside until we got around 15. You would practice all the time outside and play all the time outside. But as a pro, no, never. For myself, there’s been a couple of outdoor games, but I’ve never been involved in one. So, it would be fun to be a part of.”
“I did, yeah,” Faksa said about playing outdoors while growing up in the Czech Republic. “We had some ponds around my city so we took our skates and played hockey. Not much, but a few times I did.”
Yeah, quite often when we were growing up,” Lindell said. “If the weather was good there and if it was cold. For me, it was fun to always play hockey and to play outdoors.”
Lindell also played in a winter classic of sorts back in Finland when he was younger and remembers the excitement and intensity that comes with an outdoor game.
“I played one Winter Classic back home and we had like 30,000 people or something like that; I don’t really remember the exact number,” Lindell said. “But, it was a great event for fans and for us. It’s a special game during the season.”
But for others, it will be a relatively new experience that they have only dreamed about up to this point.
“Never,” Bishop said. “The only time I ever really played outdoor hockey was when we went up to a peewee Quebec tournament and that was it. Just the whole aura of the Winter Classic, it’s an honor to play in it. New Year’s Day and everyone is watching. So, yeah, it’s really exciting.”
The opponent has yet to be named, though the league announced that they would choose an opponent in the near future. There will be a press conference held in Dallas for the official naming of the visiting team.
Over the past few days, Dallas Stars fans have tossed around ideas of who they would like to go up against in the 2020 Classic. Some say they want the Minnesota Wild to visit because of the bitter history between the two clubs; others want a team like Nashville considering they are a strong and consistent non-traditional hockey market and the two teams always put on a show when pitted against each other. In addition, the Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, and St. Louis Blues have been tossed around for various reasons.
But what team do Dallas Stars players want to square off with? The results are just as skewed.
“No idea,” Faksa said, “but I think someone from the Original Six would be really nice.”
“Not anyone specifically,” said Lindell. “Maybe some divisional opponent that has some kind of rivalry. That’s the first thing that came to my mind.”
Hockey will go back to its roots on Jan. 1, 2020 when the Cotton Bowl plays host to the Dallas Stars and an unnamed opponent. The great history of the sport will be on full display for a growing hockey market that could always use the extra spark (I mean, the Cowboys did win a playoff game on Saturday and reasserted their claim as the central sports focus in DFW).
“That’s where you played eight against eight and you learned how to give-and-go,” Monty pointed out. “That’s what I remember. Frozen toes and hot chocolate after.”
The fans are excited, the players are excited, and the hockey world is intrigued to see just how big this event could be for the city and the Dallas Stars hockey community.
We’ll see how it unfolds in a short 360 days.