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Preds Ready for Winter Classic, Excited for Experience, Opportunity

Nashville Players Want to Soak It All In, But Know Two Points Matter Most

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten / Senior Communications & Content Coordinator

There isn't much Pekka Rinne hasn't experienced stopping pucks for the Nashville Predators over the past 13 years, but on Monday, when he was asked about his experience playing outdoors, the goaltender had to think for a moment.

Rinne was a child back home in Finland the last time he laced up skates beneath a winter sky, and he always hoped to do it again one day.

He just never imagined it would be at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in front of almost 90,000 rabid fans.

After almost a year of buildup, Rinne and the rest of his Predators teammates have embarked for Dallas, Texas, now just two days away from facing the Dallas Stars in the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day.

The contest is a potentially once-in-a-career experience for most players, and although some on the Nashville roster have played outdoors at the NHL level in the past, not a single one has done so on Jan. 1 in the League's signature event.

"I'm very excited, and I think it's going to be an awesome experience," Rinne said Monday after testing out a fresh pair of pads he'll sport in the game. "Just the fact that we're playing outside in a beautiful stadium, it's going to be really cool. I just can't wait to see all the setup and actually get to skate, skate out there… We're very excited about this opportunity."

The Predators plan on taking in the entire experience to the fullest - most have their spouses and families along with them for the adventure - but they haven't lost sight of the fact that there are two points available in the standings against a divisional opponent.

It's that mindset - appreciate the moment, but don't lose sight of what's at stake - that the club plans on utilizing to carry them through a day that comes with plenty of pomp and circumstance.

"It's a big game, there's no question about that," Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "I think you still go about your business; you try to limit your distractions and enjoy it for what it is. But at the end of the day, we'll go about our routine, the way we always do with regard to meetings and getting the guys ready to play."

"The most important thing is to win a hockey game," Captain Roman Josi said. "That's the main thing. We'll definitely enjoy the whole the whole game, but the main thing is to get two points."

Video: Stars, Predators write new chapter at Winter Classic

Part of finding success in a game like this is dealing with the elements. As of the afternoon on Dec. 30, the forecast in Dallas is actually quite good. A prediction of cloud cover with temperatures hovering near 50 is about as ideal as one could hope for in Texas this time of year, and if that holds, weather shouldn't be a huge factor.

However, there are other aspects to consider as described by Preds forward Matt Duchene, who is set to skate in his third outdoor game as an NHLer.

"The big thing is you've got to prepare for anything you can," Duchene said. "You have to prepare for good ice, bad ice, a good hockey game, kind of a weird game - you don't really know what's going to be thrown at you, so you just try to adapt and not get rattled by that. You almost can't prepare the same, it's just impossible and you just try and take it as it comes and try and be the best you can be."

The Predators will get a feel for things like ice conditions, sightlines and other potential items that can't be addressed until they actually step on the ice for the first time. That will come Tuesday afternoon at the Cotton Bowl before the real thing comes at 1 p.m. CT on New Year's Day.

The excitement was palpable in the Nashville locker room on Monday, and it's emanating through the fan base too. According to the NHL, more than 20,000 fans are travelling from Nashville alone, the highest total the League has ever seen from a visiting club for an outdoor game.

Word of that statistic made it back to the Preds, and while it's a staggering figure, they're not the least bit surprised.

"Our fans have been unbelievable, and now they're coming down to Dallas to make some noise," Laviolette said. "We're happy about that, and it's nice to know that the following is there and that they're moving their way to Dallas. That just adds to it, and it's going to be a great event."

"I'd expect nothing less from these fans and from this city," Rinne grinned. "We're going into Dallas territory, and just the fact that that many of our fans are going to be there, it's not going to feel like we're in their grounds. I can't wait to see it, and hopefully we can give them a good game."

Wednesday brings an opportunity for the Preds to feel like kids again on the backyard pond, if only for a moment. Once the puck drops, it's all business.

What a start to the year it could be.

"We'll try to enjoy it, but it's two points," Rinne said. "Right now, we are in a jam. Every point is crucial for us, so obviously we've got to treat it as the biggest game of the year."

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