NHL goes outdoor far south
by John Tranchina|03 JAN 2020
85,630 spectators came to the NHL’s southernmost outdoor game in Dallas.
photo: John Tranchina
The National Hockey League went further south than ever to host an outdoor game. Dallas, Texas, might not be the most typical venue when you think of a winter outdoor game but at mild temperatures 85,630 fans came to the stadium to watch the Dallas Stars beat the Nashville Predators.

When Dallas forward Corey Perry was ejected with a game misconduct just 2:44 into the NHL’s Winter Classic on Wednesday, not only did his team have to kill off a five-minute major penalty, they were also left one forward short for the rest of the game.

With an opportunity to play more, Mattias Janmark stepped into a bigger role and delivered an excellent performance, scoring the tying goal on a power play just 58 seconds into the third period and then assisting on the insurance goal at 6:35 to help the Stars defeat the Nashville Predators 4-2 in front of 85,630 fans at Cotton Bowl Stadium.

“I got lots of family and friends here and if there’s any game you want to score in, it’s one like this,” said Janmark, who is from Danderyd, Sweden. “It was amazing. It was something surreal, it was better than all the expectations.”

Janmark, who usually averages 14:01 of ice time, logged 15:26 in this one, his most in the last five outings, and scored for the second straight game, his fifth of the season. 

“He’s a guy that can play left wing, play right wing, kill penalties, go on the power play and he had a great game today,” said Dallas interim head coach Rick Bowness of Janmark. “I’m very happy for Janny, it’s good to see him get rewarded with a goal, but you need those guys.”

Dallas fell behind 2-0 in the opening 7:36 after the Predators scored twice during their 5-minute power play, including one by Matt Duchene during a 5-on-3. Dante Fabbro scored the second one with eight seconds left in the man-advantage.

But the Stars began to slowly grab back the momentum in the second period, and trailing 2-1, they started the third on a power play. After Dallas won a face-off in the Predators’ zone, Janmark parked in front of Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne and tied the contest when John Klingberg’s wrist shot from the point deflected off his leg and in.

“I tried to get to the net and we had Klinger out there and I know that he wants to shoot it when he gets in the middle,” Janmark said of the play, “so I just tried to get away from the puck and luckily, it hit my calf and went in.”
Following another power play goal by Alexander Radulov at 5:06 of the third that gave the Stars the lead, Janmark set up another tally just 1:29 later when he fired a wrist shot from the right face-off circle. Rinne stopped it but the puck bounced off the leg of Radek Faksa in front right to the charging Andrej Sekera, who poked it home.

“He stepped up a lot,” Faksa said of the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Janmark. “On the power play, it was a good screen by him. He’s not a big guy but he’s not scared to go there, and he’s playing really good lately.”

Janmark emerged from the locker room after the game wearing a black and white suit with a bolo tie and a black cowboy hat, noting that all of his teammates also were wearing Old West outfits.

“We had a cowboy theme,” he said. “I think it’s not very Swedish with a cowboy outfit, so I had to get some inspiration, but we had a team theme. We felt like this was suiting this game. I try to keep it pretty simple.”

The pageantry of the league’s signature outdoor game of the season also celebrated Texas culture, with it’s Wild West motif, including a mechanical bull on the field, horses carrying flags for both teams, a country music band (Dan & Shay) playing during the intermissions, as well as pig races, knife jugglers and square dancers. 

“It was awesome,” said Comeau, who scored the Stars’ first goal with 1:08 left in the second period. “You don’t really know what to expect from the start of the game, but the atmosphere and the fans, everything they put on, that was awesome, the little touches – the pig races, the horses, it had a nice Texas feel.”

Even though the Predators lost, while it was hard to accept the result, the experience itself was still fun for the most part, particularly the fact that they had an estimated 20,000 of their own fans in the audience, who were pretty loud in the first period.

“It was cool, it was awesome,” said Predators captain Roman Josi, who recorded two assists while skating a game-high 33:02 of ice time. “Just yesterday having our families here and the crowd here, having that many people from Nashville was really special. It’s really special for us to get that kind of support. It would have made it a lot better if we got a win.” 
“It was probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing, to play in front of 80,000-plus people and it was pumped all the way up until puck drop,” added Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm, who logged 27:45 of ice time. “I thought the whole atmosphere and everything that they did, aside from the ice, was awesome. A really cool experience, but it’s tough to look that way right now, it’s just disappointing with the loss.” 

And while the circumstances were very different, the experience of playing outdoors brought back fond memories for some players who grew up playing outside.

“I used to skate outdoors all the time when I was little, and my team would play outside, so it kind of brings back those memories from being a kid, when we would play outside any chance you get,” said Josi, who grew up in Berne, Switzerland. 

“Growing up, we had a baseball diamond around the corner from our house in our neighborhood,” added Stars center Jason Dickinson, who assisted on Comeau’s goal and is from Georgetown, Ontario in Canada. “A guy would go out and flood it every winter and it would be done up perfectly for us and it was awesome to skate out there … Definitely not as cold, we didn’t have mittens out there today, but it does bring back memories of being out there and just being a kid and having fun on the pond and not thinking too much about hockey.”

Rinne, who hails from Kempele, Finland, also talked about enjoying the process of playing outside and the emotions it evoked.

“Growing up, everything happened in outdoor rinks,” Rinne said. “The thing I remember is, it was your passion, everything was so much fun when you would go out there and skate with your friends, and even with my team, we would skate outside. It was always special.”