Predators, Stars ready for unique atmosphere of Winter Classic

DALLAS — When the NHL decided to take the Winter Classic to Texas they could have faced a handful of weather challenges putting the game on.

Rain, snow, warm temperatures, New Year’s Day could have posed challenges in building and maintaining a hockey rink inside a college football stadium. But outside of a rain storm that caused some a do-over of making the ice last weekend, the weather has been good and the issues appear to be minimal ahead for the Predators and Stars when they meet at Cotton Bowl Stadium on Wednesday (1 p.m. ET; NBC).

Both teams got a sense of their unique surroundings during Tuesday afternoon practices. The sun was setting, so glare did not become a big factor. The forecast for the game calls for clouds, which means seeing the puck might be a little easier, especially if you’re Ben Bishop or Pekka Rinne. Players were sure to test the boards and see how the puck reacts in order to get an idea before the game starts.

The other area of concern was looking around the rink and realizing that unlike an NHL arena the seats at Cotton Bowl Stadium are a decent ways away from the glass.

“The crowd is not going to be on the glass, so that’s going to be a little bit different,” said Stars defenseman John Klingberg. “But at the same time if you look up you’re going to see a lot more people. I don’t know what to expect [Wednesday] but I think it’s going to be loud and a lot of people and a lot of fun.”

“The thing that surprised me was the depth perception,” said Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis. “You’re shooting the puck and instead of looking two feet behind the glass and seeing a seat you’re now looking 40-50 yards behind. It kind of threw me for a loop for a bit.”

[LIVESTREAM: COVERAGE BEGINS AT 1 P.M. ET ON NBC]

Goalies will have their own challenges. As long as the sun stays away glare won’t be a concern, but how the stanchions react to pucks being fired off of them will be interesting to watch early on.

“I think it’s very important, clearly, for the goalies to get out there and see the puck coming at them in the daylight, and the guys getting used to that,” said Stars head coach Rick Bowness. “It’s just getting accustomed, a little bit more comfortable on outdoor ice.”

Since mild temperatures are expected and no rain or snow is in the forecast, there likely won’t be a big need for extra gloves or undershirts for players as we’ve seen in other outdoor games. The equipment staffs are well-prepared to deal with any issues that arise once puck drops with extra everything packed. They want to allow the players to focus solely on the game — a game that will take each player time to get used to the unique environment.

“This is an amazing wonderful event but when the puck drops, you’ve got to play,” Bowness said. “And if we have to play through climatizing ourselves with the surroundings, hey, that’s what we do.”

MORE WINTER CLASSIC COVERAGE:
2020 Winter Classic by the numbers
Stars seeking consistency in second half under Bowness
Predators focused on points to dig out of standings hole

Watch the 2020 NHL Winter Classic between the Nashville Predators and the Dallas Stars at the Cotton Bowl on Wednesday, January 1 at 1 p.m. ET only on NBC, NBC Sports and the NBC Sports app.

Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and Pierre McGuire and Brian Boucher will have the call from the Cotton Bowl. Mike Tirico will host the network’s on-site Winter Classic pre-game coverage alongside the NHL Live studio team of host Kathryn Tappen, and analysts Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp. Tirico will interview members of 1999 Stanley Cup Champion Stars team on-site during intermission of coverage on NBC.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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