The Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars will play the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Cotton Bowl Stadium on Wednesday (2 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVAS). In the runup to the game, NHL.com and NHL Studios present "Making of The Winter Classic," a daily behind-the-scenes look at how the annual outdoor event comes together. Today, we focus on the team equipment managers.
DALLAS -- The trucks rolled into the parking lot of Cotton Bowl Stadium in the dead of night early Monday morning.
Inside the hold of the truck was all the equipment the Dallas Stars had used hours earlier in a 4-2 win against the Arizona Coyotes in Glendale, Arizona.
The Stars equipment is moved countless times in a season, from American Airlines Arena, where they play their home games, to the Dr. Pepper StarCenter in Frisco, Texas, their practice facility about 30 miles north of Dallas, to each of the other 30 NHL arenas and assorted practice facilities across the NHL.
But few of these equipment moves resembled this one, which was the start of two days of preparation for the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Stars and the Nashville Predators at Cotton Bowl Stadium on Wednesday (2 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVAS).
Instead of the three to five people who normally show up for the middle-of-the-night chores, seven were on hand Monday morning.
"Everybody came out," said Dennis Soetaert, the assistant equipment manager for the Stars. "It was a group effort from the whole training staff and the equipment staff."
The group, which included equipment manager Steve Sumner, and equipment assistant Andrew Cohen, emptied most of the truck and loaded it all, more than 80 bags and trunks, into a makeshift dressing room at Cotton Bowl Stadium in a little less than an hour.
Then the truck departed with the remaining equipment and headed to Frisco for the optional practice on Monday.
After that, it was back to Cotton Bowl Stadium to get the room ready for the practice day Tuesday and the game Wednesday.
It was just another day in the life for the equipment men during a season filled with unique challenges, demanding hours and hard physical labor.
"It wasn't too much of a challenge," said Soetaert, who has been an equipment manager for 14 years, the past seven with the Stars.
"We've gone to practice rinks that are smaller than this and to different rinks in different areas and we always have challenges in other buildings. Probably our biggest challenge was making sure we have all our extra stuff for playing outdoors. It is a unique game, but it is a game for two points, so we have to make sure we have everything that the players might need."
For Pete Rogers, the equipment manager for the Predators, the challenges as the road team were a bit different.
This is the first game in a trip that will see the Predators play at the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday and at the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.
So Rogers had to pack for three games, the first of which is unlike any he has prepared for in his career.
The Predators are wearing one-off uniforms for the outdoor game, featuring different socks, pants, gloves and jerseys than they normally wear. Nashville will go through four sets of jerseys in the game, changing after warmups and after each period.
An additional wrinkle to the added volume of gear, including some designed for cold weather, is that Rogers did not have the space in the luggage hold of the team plane he is normally afforded. Instead of a small traveling party on the plane of players and staff, which usually numbers about 45, the plane was full of family and friends and carried about 150 people.
"There were people everywhere, friends and family, kids running up and down the aisle," Rogers said. "You know, it's a different thing for everybody. But, it's great to have your families around because you know, usually when you go on the road, we go to the rink, we do our job, we have dinner, we come back we do it all again the next day. Now you get have your families around and it's a great thing, so they can kind of see what we do every day. Who knows if they'll be bored with it or happy with it? I guess time will tell."
Rogers and the Predators solved the issue by sending the gear specific to the Winter Classic ahead by truck. At the conclusion of the game, all the Winter Classic-specific equipment will go in separate bags and be sent back to Nashville while the normal game equipment will go with the Predators to Los Angeles.
Despite the challenges and the long hours during his time in Dallas, Rogers is excited to be a part of the game and to help the Predators make some NHL history by playing outdoors in one of the most famous college football stadiums in the country.
"We came here for the first time a couple weeks ago and you walk in here and the stadium is so old, but it's so cool," Rogers said. "Even to drive around the outside here, it just looks like it's 100 years old. It's very well-preserved. It's very, very exciting to be a part of all of this."