So many fans and media pundits tried to put down the market when it was announced the Dallas Stars were hosting the Winter Classic.
Could they sell a college football stadium of this size? Would people come? Would it be cold enough? How does hockey work in a market where there’s no backyard rinks or ponds to skate on?
The 2020 Winter Classic in Dallas today answered a lot of those questions. Yes, and they sold more tickets than originally intended with sections opened due to high demand when tickets went on presale. It was a sellout, with 85,630 fans in attendance — with more than 25,000 of them from the Nashville Predators fanbase. The weather was perfect — overcast the whole game, with a temperature around 59 (and a feels-like temp around 51 thanks to the windchill).
As I looked around the seating bowl throughout the game, nearly every fan was standing. First period, intermission, stoppages in play – not many butts were in seats. As the aerial shots of the stadium were shown on television, I marveled at how full it looked and what 85,000-plus fans look like watching an outdoor hockey game in Dallas, Texas.
Much like a college football game in this big state, it was exciting from start to finish.
The pre-game ceremonies began with the Dallas mounted police leading both teams out of the tunnel. As each team came up to the ice, team-colored fireworks were sent into the air.
But the best part of the team entrances was when the Dallas Stars came out to Pantera’s “Puck Off”, the goal song of the team. With all of the fans in Victory Green yelling “DALLAS! STARS!”, Ben Bishop at the front of the team’s line threw his hands and stick into the air, getting the crowd even more amped for the game.
Then, during the national anthem, the sound of so many fans yelling “STARS!” as they do at home games in the American Airlines Center sent goosebumps through the body. It was quite loud on the national broadcast, too, a neat tradition here in the Dallas market set on the national stage.
With a flyover completed at the end of the anthem, and Dallas Cowboys legend Troy Aikman dropping the ceremonial puck, all of a sudden it was another hockey game. Though the players tried to treat it as such, there’s still moments both around and in the game that they’ll remember forever.
The Stars looked good to start the game, with both teams coming out fast and physical to set the tone of the game.
It didn’t take too long before that physicality crossed a line, sparking the first drama on the ice in a drama-filled day.
Stars forward Corey Perry hit Predators blueliner Ryan Ellis with an elbow to the head while he was in a shooting motion to play the puck. He was on the ice for a while before being helped off, and he did not return to the game due to an “upper-body injury”.
Perry got a five-minute major and a game misconduct, ending his appearance in the outdoor game just over two minutes into game play. After the game, Perry appeared genuinely upset about how the events transpired on the play. “I’ve played with him before. I know him personally. It’s very unintentional. I didn’t mean to hurt him. I hope he’s ok.”
On the ensuing power play, Blake Comeau had a delay of game penalty after shooting the puck over the glass. The replay on the broadcast made it seem like a 50/50 call, as some angles appeared to show the puck hitting the glass before it went out. But the call was what it was, giving the Predators a 5-on-3 power play that Matt Duchene capitalized on.
Dante Fabbro connected again on the remainder of the major penalty, giving the Stars an early 2-0 hole in the game. The play was a result of a failure by the Stars to clear the puck when they had a chance to, and it ended up in the back of the net.
After giving up two power play goals and extending a stretch here where the Stars’ penalty kill has become quite leaky, Bishop said that sometimes that’s how these things go. The season is a long one and it can’t be perfect the whole time. “I don’t think anybody is worried about it,” he said after the game.
Denis Gurianov did draw a penalty shot chance, giving Dallas the opportunity to cut the lead in the first period. He missed it just wide of the net. Dallas played a decent game at even strength, with most of Nashville’s best chances coming on the power play only.
Though Dallas had a lot of good shifts early on, Pekka Rinne stymied them all. Most of the second period looked like a goaltending duel, with both netminders making some key saves as the Stars started to settle into their game.
After a successful kill of Tyler Seguin’s boarding against Austin Watson, the Stars seemed to garner some momentum. That led to Joe Pavelski drawing a power play after Roman Josi crosschecked him. Though they did not capitalize on that, almost immediately after the penalty expired, Comeau was left all alone in the slot area. He redirected Jason Dickinson’s behind-the-net work in for a great goal, breaking the Stars’ scoreless run and cutting the lead in half.
The momentum from Comeau’s goal bled over into the next power play Dallas drew at the end of the second period. They came out scorching hot in the third, at one point building an 11-0 shots on goal advantage over the Predators.
They scored on the power play time that had carried over, with John Klingberg’s point shot redirected by Mattias Janmark to change the direction of the puck at the last second and puncture Rinne once more. Dallas nearly broke the tie on the ensuing shift, and were all of a sudden rolling against Nashville.
A power play goal by Alexander Radulov eventually did break the tie, a result of a hooking call on Ryan johansen who impeded Miro Heiskanen with the stick infraction. The Cotton Bowl erupted, and after the game Seguin said it was the loudest he’s ever heard a hockey game ever before. Klingberg quipped that usually he can hear Radulov scream after he scores, but couldn’t today because of the crowd.
The Stars seventh come-from-behind game was topped by Andrej Sekera getting his first goal of the season. He poked home a loose puck after Radek Faksa’s chance in-tight on Rinne’s net.
Dallas players after the game said that they always have confidence, even when down a couple of goals, that they aren’t ever really out of it. Maybe that’s partly why they lead the NHL in comeback wins. Though it’s not a trend they want to continue, as Jason Dickinson said post-game, it is making for some entertaining hockey for Stars fans.
And on a stage this big, entertaining hockey is exactly what the Stars gave the hockey world that had doubted them so much.