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Preds Take In the Sights at Cotton Bowl Before Winter Classic Arrives

Nashville Players, Coaches, Families Make Memories Before True Test Arrives on New Year's Day

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten / Senior Communications & Content Coordinator

It's about a 100-foot walk from the Predators dressing room, down a ramp and through a tunnel until the Texas sky opens up.

When Preds players and coaches took that journey for the first time on Tuesday evening - with just hours left in the decade - they couldn't help but marvel at the scope of what lay in front of them. A legendary football stadium - empty for now, but ready for 85,000 on New Year's Day - rose up around them, a hockey rink constructed right in the middle of it all.

Donning their vintage white sweaters designed specifically for the occasion, the team gathered at center ice for a group photo, a moment to capture what will no doubt be a highlight of their careers when they look back years from now.

There's only one more night until the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic arrives, and the puck will soon drop between the Predators and Dallas Stars at the Cotton Bowl deep in the heart of Texas.

And the Preds can't wait.

Video: Rinne, Josi and Duchene preview NHL Winter Classic

"This is my first outdoor game, and there's something special going out there," Preds center Ryan Johansen said. "Cruising around, I definitely didn't expect it to feel that big from down on the ice. It's pretty impressive being out there, and it seems like all the work that's gone in, everyone's done a pretty darn good job. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow."

"I have to give props to the NHL with how they do it," Preds defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "Everything's just so first class, and there's been a lot of talk [leading up to this], but now we're actually here and it's really cool to take it all in… Tomorrow with the fans is going to be really cool."

Video: Johansen, Forsberg and Ekholm talk skating outdoors

It was something to see when the Preds took to the ice for a quick practice before a family skate on New Year's Eve, a chance to really take everything in before the stakes rise.

Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette has coached twice before outdoors in the NHL, but both of those meetings came in baseball stadiums. Plus, the League expects at least 20,000 Predators fans to be in attendance just from Nashville alone. That should add just a bit to the atmosphere.

"First of all, how awesome is that, 85,000 people," Laviolette said. "To have that many fans, and to have it sell out the way it did down here in Texas [is awesome]. And then from our fan base, which has been just incredible the way it's grown, to over 20,000-plus people from Nashville coming down here to see the game, that says a lot about the growth of the sport in general. To be here in Texas, against a team from Nashville and close to 90,000 people that want to watch a hockey game outdoors is awesome. We're really excited about that."

Video: Winter Classic Pregame Podium: Peter Laviolette

Of course, it's not difficult to get up for a game of this magnitude either. Everyone knows how things ended between these two in the 2019 postseason, and the first meeting since then didn't go Nashville's way in their home building.

Now they have a chance to spoil the party in the Lone Star State.

"It makes it more fun, and it will make it more special if we can come up with a win and take more confidence from it," Johansen said. "But that's exactly it. We know how important this game is for our clubs and how we really need these points to come our way. We'll be starting to get dialed in once we get out of here and get some food and crawl into our beds."

 

The next time the Preds walk out from that tunnel, the noise will be deafening, and the Smashville faithful will have plenty to do with that. All that's left is to give them a good show.

"The position we're in…we've just got to try to dig in," Ekholm said. "Here we are. It's a big rival, and it's going to be a great game. We're really excited and pumped about it."

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