The NHL Winter Classic: What it Takes to Bring Outdoor Hockey to the South

Getting the site of the NHL’s southernmost-ever Winter Classic – the league’s annual outdoor hockey game that helps ring in the new year, of which the 2020 edition will be the 12th – up and running was no easy task.

The Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators, divisional foes who battled in the first round of last season’s playoffs, will square off Wednesday. Jan. 1 inside Cotton Bowl Stadium, a locale known more for lording over the Texas State Fair and for colossal bouts on the football gridiron, not anything involving sticks and skates.

The contest is expected to reach the No. 2 spot on the all-time Winter Classic attendance leaderboard, falling in only behind 2014’s edition at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. They don’t call it the Big House for nothing.

However, constructing a professional-caliber ice sheet in any outdoor venue, let alone one in Texas is as interesting as the game itself. So, how did the Cotton Bowl come together for what promises to be a unforgettable New Year’s Day throwdown?

Ice Installation

It doesn’t take a very large leap of logic to do the math on ice and Texas temperatures – though this past Wednesday’s high temperatures barely escaped the 40s, that’s still significantly higher than what’s needed for natural ice formation.

In fact, the ice’s preparation hasn’t been without its share of speedbumps, though crews are still on track to have the surface ready for this week’s big tilt.

Earlier this month, a 300-ton refrigeration system was hauled by trailer to Fair Park, where it will be the driving force behind the playing surface come Wednesday. That surface will begin with plastic decking, on top of which a plywood layer is placed, as is an additional layer of aluminum trays filled with glycol coolant.

The NHL’s refrigeration system, powered by these glycol trays, will lean on thousands of gallons of the coolant to keep the playing surface near 22 degrees (F) throughout the contest.

The construction of the rink and the maintenance of the cooling system are overseen by NHL facilities and hockey operations head Derek King, who’s responsible for the league’s ice surfaces. Typically, King said, an NHL game is played atop somewhere around an inch of ice.

To make conditions meet NHL standards, an outdoor rink requires double that, and each inch requires around 10,000 gallons of water to complete.

Regarding potential inclement weather, the league is confident the game will go on as scheduled despite a potential for some light showers. After all, NHL teams have contested the league’s more than two dozen outdoor games in temperatures ranging from 0-60 degrees.

The Wait Will Be Worth It

When the Stars and Predators take the ice Wednesday, it will represent a huge moment for both the league and the city of Dallas.

Both teams have found success in non-traditional hockey markets, including in their high-profile and hotly contested 2019 postseason battle. Dallas also successfully hosted the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, further proving the city’s capacity to rally around the sport.

Between the State Fair’s Midway reopening for the day, an NHL-sponsored fan fest and performances from musical acts Midland and Dan + Shay in addition to what’s expected to be a quality on-ice product, the league and city expect a tremendously successful event set to bring in more than $30 million for the city.

For a closer look at the Dallas Stars, check out MarketScale’s original series: Behind the Screens here!

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