DALLAS -- There was a new sense of excitement at the State Fair of Texas on Wednesday as fans of the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators poured into the Midway in preparation for the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
The Stars and Predators opened the New Year at historic Cotton Bowl Stadium with the first outdoor NHL game in Texas. More than 80,000 fans were in attendance, including more than 20,000 supporting the Predators.
Alan Brown and his son, Bryson, arrived in Dallas on Tuesday. The family is from Nashville and have been Predators season ticket holders for 15 years. They'd been waiting for this game since the matchup was announced.
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"We were ready to buy tickets as soon as they went on sale," Alan Brown said. "We've had these for a while.
"We've been to a lot of big sporting events, but this feels like we're going to the Super Bowl."
Scott Friedman and his daughter, Mackenzie, have been attending Stars games together for the past 20 years. But with a bigger stage, a historic venue and a rivalry between the Stars and Predators that's been fueled by their Stanley Cup Playoff series last April, they were expecting a game like no other.
"The combination of hockey and the State Fair of Texas will not be able to be duplicated at any other venue anywhere," Scott Friedman said. "This is incredible. Two southern teams playing together. It's a rivalry and it's a perfect matchup."
"Especially after the playoffs last year, I got even more excited," Mackenzie Friedman said. "I thought with two southern teams in non-traditional markets, it's super cool. But after how intense the playoff series was last year, I got even more excited.
"It's become a rivalry now. We now get to see it escalated on a national scale. For two teams that don't get that national exposure, they're now going to get it."
Wayne Sturdivant has been a season ticket holder in Nashville for the past five years. To him,the uniqueness and rarity of the event were a prime factor in purchasing Winter Classic tickets.
"I thought that it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing and they may never make it again," Sturdivant said. "We've built a rivalry with the Stars. They've been hard-hitting games. It's going to be unforgettable."
Bruno Tomesch has been a Stars fan since they were the Minnesota North Stars and considered the 340-mile trip from Andrews, Texas, a small price to pay to see the game live. After walking around the Midway for the first time, he was convinced that the event would help generate new hockey fans.
Video: Predators, Stars arrive at Cotton Bowl in style
"This is amazing," Tomesch said. "This is what's going to bring new hockey fans into the game. They're going to see this and say, 'This is a whole lot of fun. Let's keep doing this.' This brings me back to my roots."
Fans of both teams arrived at the Midway early to participate in the Truly Hard Seltzer NHL PreGame and get ready to take part in hockey history with a Texas-sized crowd.
"We love it when it's 18,000 and a packed house at the American Airlines Center," Scott Friedman said. "80,000 in this place? Crazy. Unbelievable."