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Winter Classic between Stars, Predators an ode to Texas hockey history

Outdoor game at Cotton Bowl will have strong connection to state's past teams

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

DALLAS -- Rick Bowness has been here before. Back in 1976, he played center for the Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League, winning the Adams Cup against the Dallas Black Hawks at Fair Park Coliseum.

"I remember the rink," Bowness said. "The seats weren't right on top of you. The hockey rink ran into a fairgrounds. It wasn't a rink built for the hockey rink."

He was a 21-year-old kid from Nova Scotia at the time.


[RELATED: 2020 NHL Winter Classic coverage]


"That was my first exposure to, here's a building that wasn't made for hockey but they throw a rink in the middle of it," he said. "So I remember walking in there saying, 'Wow, OK, this is what it looks like'."

Bowness will coach the Dallas Stars against the Nashville Predators in the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Wednesday (2 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVAS). The outdoor game will be at Cotton Bowl Stadium, right next to Fair Park Coliseum.

Again, here's a building that wasn't made for hockey, but they threw a rink in the middle of it.

No, most Texans didn't grow up skating outdoors like Bowness did. But that doesn't mean there aren't roots to romanticize at this Winter Classic. There will be strong connections to local hockey history in the jerseys and setting itself, and the crowd of more than 80,000, the second-largest in NHL history, will make a statement about the love of the game.

"One of the things that this game has brought out is, there is a Texas hockey history here, and there is a hockey culture in this state," Stars president Brad Alberts said.

The Stars didn't arrive in Dallas until 1993, when the Minnesota North Stars moved south and dropped the North from their name. But pro hockey predates pro football in Dallas. It predates Cotton Bowl Stadium, the iconic football venue built in 1930.

The Dallas Ice Kings played in the 1920s. The Dallas Texans played in the American Hockey Association in 1941-42 and the United States Hockey League from 1945-49. The Dallas Black Hawks played in the CHL from 1967-82. The Dallas Freeze played in the CHL from 1992-95.

Widen the scope to include Fort Worth, Texas, and you include the Fort Worth Rangers, who played in the AHA in 1941-42 and in the USHL from 1945-49. Their coach from 1945-46? Eddie Shore. Now that's old-time hockey. The Fort Worth Wings played in the CHL from 1967-74. The Rangers and Wings played at the Will Rogers Memorial Center, which still has livestock shows. Fort Worth has had other teams over the years. 

Widen the scope further to include the whole state of Texas, and there are too many teams to mention. But we can't fail to mention that Gordie Howe played four seasons for the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association from 1973-77.

"There has been 60, 70 years of hockey history here, and there's a lot of hockey being played in this state," Alberts said.

Tweet from @DallasStars: In 1926, The Houston Polar Bears faced off against the Dallas Ice Kings to promote hockey statewide. #TexasOnIce

The Dallas Texans played at Dallas Ice Arena, about a quarter mile from Cotton Bowl Stadium. The Black Hawks and Freeze played at Fair Park Coliseum. It was built in 1955 and has hosted all types of events. But it was known as Fair Park Ice Arena for a time, and it is being used as a staging area for the Winter Classic. Workers have been buzzing on the floor where Bowness played that Game 7 in 1976, under the scoreboard and amid the seats. 

"I remember going to games here when I was a kid," said Stars ice operations manager Cody Bateman, a member of the Winter Classic ice crew. "I saw the Dallas Freeze here a lot. I mean, I was too young to remember most of the Black Hawks stuff. I was tiny. But my mom used to take me to games all the time, so it was pretty cool."

When the Stars gave adidas parameters for their Winter Classic jersey, Dallas hockey history was important.

"We shared with them information about the Dallas Texans so they could see that in case they weren't aware," Stars senior vice president of marketing Dan Stuchal said.

Adidas sent back seven variations. The Stars picked parts they liked, adidas put them together and the final product echoes the Texans uniforms with the team name running through a big "D".

"We were all very excited to see that connectivity to that original Dallas Texans team," Stuchal said.

The jerseys were such a hit that the Stars had to order more. They're all over town. 

"Everything about this game has been overwhelming and exceeded expectations," Alberts said. "Our ticket sales for it, the jerseys ... We ordered the amount that most teams had sold in the other games, and we blew through that amount immediately. It was overwhelming."

Wait till Wednesday.

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