By: Jesse A. Cook (Executive Managing Sports Editor)
Skating as the home squad, the Dallas Stars notched a 4-2 victory over the Nashville Predators… outdoors in Texas in 55oF weather. Packed inside the walls of the Cotton Bowl Stadium, thousands swarmed to watch the annual New Years’ Day ice hockey game, the National Hockey League’s famed “Winter Classic.”
Previously held in Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and many other northern cities, traveling to Los Angeles as its lowest point. On Wednesday afternoon, on the first of the new decade, Dallas and Nashville set for bout.
Hockey has faced controversy for decades over whether or not southern cities should even have hockey teams, so the thought of an outdoor game moving south raised some concerns for fans.
Junior Samantha Sherman, however, said she loves the idea of an outdoor game down south. She said, “I think it’s a great thing because it shows that the love for hockey is growing all over the country.”
She went to the last Winter Classic hosted in New England, which was January 1, 2016 at Gillette Stadium. Even though the Boston Bruins lost that game 5-1 to the Montreal Canadiens, she said that the crowd enjoyed the game thoroughly. “The part that stuck out to me the most was how cold it was outside for the fans and the players as well, but it seemed like everybody enjoyed it.”
Sherman asked if the north even boasts better hockey atmospheres than the south. She asked, “Are you sure warmer cities are less hockey centric? The Vegas Golden Knights have a large amount of fans and they’re in a warm state.”
The game could have been postponed if the temperature reached above 60oF, but they took the risk and received a memorable game.
An unfortunate hit on Nashville’s Ryan Ellis from the Stars’ Corey Perry marred the game, but the play more than made up for it as Pekka Rinne of the Predators and Ben Bishop of the Stars turned up the heat in net.
The scoring started off after Perry’s hit caused him to be ejected and his team to be slapped with a five-minute major and Blake Comeau swatted the puck over the glass for a two-minute minor, leaving the Stars stranded shorthanded and the Predators on a five-on-three powerplay.
With the two-man advantage 5:46 into the first period, Filip Forsberg saucered a pass cross-ice to the waiting stick of Matt Duchene who sent a wrist shot over the glove-side of the switching Bishop and back into the net. 1:50 later, Dante Fabbro fired it from the point past the stick-side on the five-on-four powerplay off of a goal line pass from Duchene.
Editor in Chief of “Penalty Box Radio,” Justin Bradford said that the south is a great home for hockey. Tweeting from his seat at the game, he wrote, “Do people love hockey in the south? Hell. Yes.”
18:52 into the second period, the Stars’ Jason Dickinson took a breakaway for a wrap-around and passed to Comeau in the slot, who sliced a dagger through the five-hole under the spread-eagle Rinne. With 49 seconds remaining in the second period, the Predators’ Colin Blackwell sent a puck over the neutral zone glass, sending him to the penalty box with a two-minute minor for a “Delay of Game” penalty.
58 seconds into the third period, and on the powerplay, the Stars’ John Klinberg sent a wrister from the blue line on net, but his teammate, Mattias Janmark, redirected the shot; Rinne had no defense for the unexpected change and the shot made its way into the back of the net once again through the five-hole. 2-2.
“Section 10 Podcast” host Pete Blackburn tweeted that he loved the game. He wrote, “This is the most entertaining Winter Classic in a while. I’m having fun.”
At 3:42, Nashville’s Ryan Johansen wrapped his stick around the torso of Miro Heiskanen and took a trip to the penalty box for a two-minute minor for a “Hooking” penalty. Once again on the powerplay, and after a fray behind the net, the puck popped free and Klingberg fired a cross-ice pass to Alexander Radulov who took the lead with a one-timer slapshot stick-side at 5:06.
At 6:35, racing up the ice, an odd-man rush pushed the puck into a swarm of players in front of the crease, and Andrej Sekera took the college football stadium to a familiar sight with a scoop and score to add some insurance to the Dallas lead.
Sherman said that she loves the outdoor games and thinks that every hockey player and fan should get an opportunity to be a part of one. “I 100% think high school teams should play outdoor games. It is a fun way to experience the joys of hockey,” she said.
With a celly slide, backup goaltender and N.H.L. personality Anton Khudobin made the postgame victory picture complete and finished the Southernmost Classic in style.