2020 Winter Classic

Corey Perry suspended five games for hit on Ryan Ellis, no Anaheim reunion

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The NHL suspended Corey Perry five games for elbowing Ryan Ellis during the 2020 Winter Classic.

The Dallas Stars fell into an early 2-0 hole thanks in part to Perry’s mistake, as he received a five-minute major and game misconduct. The Stars eventually rallied for a 4-2 win against the Nashville Predators on Wednesday.

The Department of Player Safety explained its reasoning in the video below:

 

As you can see in the video, the league acknowledges Perry’s explanation that he didn’t intend to elbow Ellis in the head, but explains that Perry was “in control of this hit at all times, and solely responsible for the end result.”

Perry described the exchange as “an awkward play” and said he “didn’t mean to hurt” Ellis. The injury factors in, and it’s worth noting that Ellis recently landed on IR.

Eventful times for Stars

This suspension continues a whirlwind month for the Stars.

The Stars fired Jim Montgomery as head coach on Dec. 10, vaguely citing “unprofessional conduct.” Montgomery finally commented on the matter on Friday, stating that he checked into rehab for alcohol abuse and supported the Stars’ decision. Rick Bowness stepped in as head coach during a process that probably felt like a trial by fire.

Dallas began 2020 on a high note by hosting a successful Winter Classic, an event that wasn’t just a success on the ice.

The Stars stand as the Central Division’s third seed among all of this turbulence.

No Anaheim reunion with Perry suspended

Both Perry and his former Ducks teammates probably circled Jan. 9 on their calendars, as that was set to be his first game in Anaheim as an opponent. Instead, Perry will sit in the press box.

The five-game suspension sidelines Perry through a Jan. 14 road game against the Avalanche. After that, Perry is eligible to return during a Jan. 16 home contest versus the Sabres.

Perry got off to a bumpy start with the Stars, breaking his foot before the season even began. So far, Perry only has three goals and 13 points in 34 games. That’s a similar output to the paltry 10 points he managed in 2018-19 with Anaheim.

This now marks Perry’s third suspension, although it’s his first since 2013.

Predators in peril, now lose key defenseman

Nashville dropped its third consecutive loss by falling to Dallas on Wednesday. Now, with Ellis out, things look bleak. The Predators face a potentially harrowing run of five of their next six games on the road, which will only be tougher without Ellis.

All things considered, it’s not too surprising that Perry will sit five games.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Cotton Bowl Winter Classic an unforgettable experience for all

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DALLAS — Under cloudy skies and with 85,630 fans inside Cotton Bowl Stadium, the Predators and Stars played one of the more memorable outdoor games in NHL history.

The 2020 Winter Classic had it all and a lot happened as the fans were still settling into their seats. An ejection, two goals, a denied penalty shot, a comeback, horses, longhorns and pig races — yes, pig races — were all part of an afternoon of outdoor hockey in Texas.

Before and after the game, those in attendance were able to experience the fan fest at The State Fair of Texas Midway. Along with the usual carnival items like corn dogs and merchandise, there were attractions like the Texas Star Ferris Wheel, the Top o’ Texas Tower and the Texas Skyway. Former Stars players Mike Modano and Brad Lukowich signed autographs and played bubble hockey with fans.

The party outside was only the beginning. As is tradition, the NHL dressed up the Cotton Bowl to really give it a Texas feel. On one side was a country dancing floor, which featured dancers and table tops and bar stools for performers. There were also the boots of Big Tex, the 55-foot talking cowboy, on display and a mechanical bull that was put to good use. Surrounding the rink was split-rail fencing for a true ranch vibe. 

But the real highlight of the setup was next to the walkway where the players entered the field. That was the location of something that we’ve never seen before at an NHL game: pig racing.

Ro-ham Josi, Tyler Swine-in, Ryan Jo-ham-sen, Andrew Hog-liano, and Pork-a Rinne were some of the competitors vying to be the pig racing champion. Most players didn’t really notice what was going on there during the game. Then there was Stars forward Jason Dickinson.

“I saw it on the big screen at one point,” he said. “I had to look away. I knew I’d get in trouble if I kept laughing.”

The racing pigs were just another part of the in-game entertainment that didn’t take place on the ice. Juggers, a unicycle performer, and small children riding sheep were also included in the 2020 Winter Classic experience. There was something Texas-sized and Texas-related happening at all times during stoppages and intermissions.

“I understand Twitter is going nuts in a good way about the pig races,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said between periods. “We tried to blend Texas and hockey. Each year we try and learn something and do it a little bit better.”

Above and beyond expectations

When the NHL was planning the event, they thought about maxing out capacity at 65,000 believing they couldn’t fill the entire stadium. But when tickets went on sale they saw the incredible demand and decided to open more sections of the stadium. It paid off and now the sold-out Stars-Predators Winter Classic ranks only behind the 2014 Maple Leafs-Red Wings game at Michigan Stadium in terms of attendance for an NHL game.

“I think the atmosphere speaks for itself,” Bettman said. “It has been nothing short of spectacular.”

And it wasn’t a sea of green in the seats. There were plenty of Predators jerseys to be seen in and around Dallas this week and throughout the stadium.

“There were more people here in yellow from Nashville than would fit in Bridgestone Arena,”  Bettman said. “So that’s how well Predators fans travel. All in all, it has been sensational.”

The show of support will only boost Nashville’s chances of landing a future outdoor game, something the Commissioner said the League has been working on.

Stars enjoyed it all

Home teams usually have a tough time in Winter Classic. The Stars are only the fourth team out of 12 to host the New Year’s Day spectacle and come away with a victory. Being able to play in front of your own fans in such a unique setting and win will stay with the players forever.

“Having it on home soil and the fans came out in great numbers and it was a lot of fun for us,” said Stars goaltender Ben Bishop. “To get the win is just that cherry on top. We were just saying how much more fun it is to win any game, but a game like this, of this magnitude. To do it front of our home fans in Dallas, which is what this whole event is all about, just makes it that much better.”

The sound level was certainly something new for the Stars players. As loud as American Airlines Center can be, it was nothing compared to the decibel levels reached in the Cotton Bowl. Tyler Seguin said that he’d never heard anything louder than the crowd after Alexander Radulov’s tiebreaking power play goal  in the third period.

The NHL took its crown jewel event south for the first time and it worked. The atmosphere, the visuals, and the game itself — it all worked.

“Everything and more. They did everything right,” Dickinson said. “The NHL marketing department, whoever puts it all together for us, it was an unbelievable experience you’ll never forget. I certainly won’t.”

MORE WINTER CLASSIC COVERAGE:
Stars win 2020 Winter Classic
Outdoor hockey in Texas? Sure thang, and was a hoot to boot

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.

Outdoor hockey in Texas? Sure thang, and was a hoot to boot

DALLAS — Ryan Clare chewed on a turkey leg as he milled about the Texas state fairgrounds hours before another major sporting event inside historic Cotton Bowl Stadium.

No, this wasn’t the Texas-Oklahoma football game, always held in October during the fair. Clare has never been to the annual Red River rivalry, but the Dallas resident has been a fan of hockey and the Stars for more than 20 years.

Getting tickets to the NHL’s Winter Classic for Dallas’ 4-2 win over Nashville was a no-brainer for Clare, and probably many others among the 85,630 who filled a venue that used to be famous for college football on New Year’s Day.

”This is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime event and everything,” said Clare, the bottom of the Dallas resident’s green No. 4 Miro Heiskanen jersey covering the top of his black kilt. ”When are you going to something like this in Texas ever again?”

Yes, outdoor hockey in Texas was as much the spectacle as that phrase sounds, with racing pigs just outside the rink on the stadium floor, and horses spooked by fireworks during ”The Star-Spangled Banner.”

At one end of the stadium, line dancers stepped to the beat of live country music in front of a stage that wasn’t far from a mechanical bull.

”I understand Twitter is going nuts in a good way about the pig races,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said. ”We tried to blend Texas and hockey. Each year we try and learn something and do it a little bit better.”

The midway on the fairgrounds was filled with thousands of fans several hours before the game, some riding the giant Ferris wheel just southwest of the stadium and others on the swinging pirate ship or the haunted house ride.

Some waited in line at least an hour for the other headliner alongside a turkey leg at the State Fair of Texas every fall: a corn dog. ”It was worth it,” one said. There were so many lines, some didn’t know where one started and the other ended.

Others almost ended up on the sky tram that crisscrosses the fairgrounds, when all they wanted to do was get in the stadium.

”We didn’t know,” said Samantha Williams, a Nashville season ticket-holder visiting Dallas for the first time.

There was some impatience in a huge cluster of fans outside the main entrance to the Cotton Bowl about an hour and a half before the start, a standstill bad enough for some to think it was the only way into the stadium when there were actually plenty of other entrances.

”It’s been sensational,” Bettman said. ”The only complaints that we’ve been getting is that it’s been too crowded. And in this business, you’ll take that.”

Bettman said the weather was perfect in every way: a temperature in the mid-50s with overcast skies that blocked the sun to prevent glare without bringing rain, which would have been an even bigger problem for the ice.

The Predators took a 2-0 lead early in the first period before the Stars thrilled the huge crowd with four goals in less than eight minutes in the second and third periods.

”We’re very fortunate to be a part of it, hockey down in Texas and a couple of Southern teams, and fill the building the way we did,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. ”It was an incredible day. You want the score to go in a different direction if you’re part of the game. But the game overall, the ice, the atmosphere, it was excellent.”

The biggest difference from the Texas-OU spectacle was the fairgrounds emptying out once the game started. When the Longhorns and Sooners play, there are still thousands of regular fair-goers to see in the aerial television shots.

Inside, there was a bunch of Dallas green rather than the 50-yard line split of burnt orange and crimson, and a strong contingent of yellow-clad Predators fans.

Among them was Sonya Baird, a lifelong resident of southeast Texas who can’t really explain how she became a Nashville fan. Baird did say she liked the style and energy of Shea Weber, who spent his first 11 seasons with the Predators.

And Baird’s never been to the state fair, so …

”I didn’t know where this place was,” she said. ”It’s pretty cool. I don’t like crowds for some reason. It wasn’t going to keep me away.”

Same with Bryan Granstaff, who came from outside Nashville because his daughter wanted to attend. He wasn’t much of a football fan, and couldn’t say he’d seen a football game from the Cotton Bowl on TV.

”The only thing I keep up with is hockey,” said Granstaff, a Predators fan for about five years. ”Hockey and huntin’.”

Well, at least half of that is quintessential Texas. As for the hockey half, it took quite a step to start 2020.

Stars’ Perry on Winter Classic ejection: ‘It was unintentional’

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(UPDATE: Perry will have a Friday DoPS hearing.)

DALLAS — Corey Perry repeatedly described his elbow to the head of Ryan Ellis that got him ejected from the 2020 Winter Classic as “unfortunate” and “unintentional.”

The Stars forward played all of 38 seconds before the hit put him out of the game 2:44 into the first period. The Predators defenseman did not return to the game. Perry was assessed an elbowing major and a game misconduct.

“It was an awkward play,” Perry said after the Stars’ 4-2 win. “I went to the bench to get a stick and came back. I reached out to try to deflect the puck or whatever. It was unfortunate. I’ve played with Ryan before. I know him personally. It’s very unintentional. I didn’t mean to hurt him. I hope he’s OK. This is a big event. I’m sure he had family in here. I had some family here. It’s unfortunate. I just hope he’s OK.”

The hit will be reviewed by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety to determine if supplemental discipline is necessary. As James noted earlier, a suspension of at least three games would take Perry out of the Stars’ lineup ahead of their visit next week to Anaheim, where he played 14 seasons.

“It’s unfortunate. It’s just one of those things that happen in the course of a game,” said Stars head coach Rick Bowness. “Corey Perry’s a great competitor and is a wonderful, wonderful player. Sometimes in hockey when you go to make a hit you get into some unfortunate situations and that’s all I can see with that. Corey Perry would never try to hurt anyone. He would play hard, but intentional? No, that’s an unfortunate hit. That’s all.”

Perry said there were a lot of things running through his head as he watched the remainder of the game. Frustration at not being able to take part in the Stars’ comeback was one of those things on his mind. He also said he plans to reach out Ellis, who he knows personally having played with him at the 2016 World Championships with Team Canada.

“Hopefully it’s not too long,” said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette of Ellis’ status, “but he got banged up pretty good.”

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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.

Stars rally to win 2020 Winter Classic, leave Predators in peril

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The Dallas Stars refused to let a terrible 1-7-1 start ruin their season, and didn’t allow a big early mistake to derail them against the Nashville Predators. After falling behind 2-0 thanks largely to Corey Perry’s ejection, the Stars rallied to beat the Predators 4-2 to win the 2020 Winter Classic.

Plenty of bad blood between Stars and Predators

Perry played a big part in the Dallas Stars falling into a 2-0 hole to begin the game. Mere minutes into the contest, Perry picked Ryan Ellis‘ head with an elbow, getting thrown from the contest.

The Stars made the situation worse by adding a delay of game penalty, and the Predators eventually took advantage with those two goals. That start left most of the crowd of 85,630 — the second largest audience for any NHL game behind only the 2014 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium — muttering, if not booing. The Stars made sure that the non-Predators contingent ended up going home happy.

Happy is not the right way to describe the mood on the ice, though.

Perry elbowing Ellis was far from the only violent moment during this outdoor game. Few were safe during the first NHL game of 2020. Notice that even aggressors were wounded, as Radek Faksa showed when he was shaken up following a questionable hit on Mattias Ekholm:

Stars win third in a row

The Stars fired Jim Montgomery not that long ago, throwing Rick Bowness right into the deep end. Bowness inspired early critics, and probably will absorb more gripes as the season goes along. But maybe this Stars team will be able to rally around their unexpected veteran coach more often than not?

Dallas improved to 23-14-4, winning their third game in a row. The Stars put themselves in a decent position to possibly get the Central Division’s third or even second seed with this run.

Instead of caving after Perry put the Stars in a bad position, they rallied. Starting with a Blake Comeau goal with a little bit more than a minute remaining in the second, Dallas rattled off four unanswered goals. After that Comeau goal, the Stars scored their three third-period goals in a 6:14 burst. One cannot help but wonder if the Stars should be more aggressive, more often.

This marks the Stars’ league-leading seventh win after trailing following a second period.

Predators in peril

When the Predators were nursing a 2-0 lead, it seemed like the headlines would be about this being a costly win. Then the Stars erased even that silver lining.

Ryan Ellis left Wednesday’s game and did not return. For a team that needs to make every game count, losing a key defenseman ranks as a brutal blow, especially if Ellis misses extended time.

The Predators saw their losing streak fatten to three games, and now stare down the barrel of a stretch where five of their next six games are on the road. For a team that’s wobbling, could that stretch push them off of a cliff?

Both teams, especially the Predators, really wanted these two points. The Stars, too, face a tough stretch soon (five of six on the road, beginning on Jan. 8). While the Predators have wilted under pressure — including this afternoon — the Stars keep showing they can roll with all sorts of punches.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.