DALLAS -- Cody Bateman is uniquely qualified to enjoy the Winter Classic.
Raised in the Carter-Riverside area of Fort Worth, Bateman is a huge football fan who has visited the Cotton Bowl since he was a kid. He also happened to be around in 1993 when a certain hockey team moved from Minnesota, and that drove him to follow the profession of ice making.
Now, Bateman is the Ice Operations Manager at American Airlines Center and he also is helping put the ice in at the Cotton Bowl. It's a sort of perfect blend for a man who loves hockey and loves Texas.
[WINTER CLASSIC GUIDE: Everything you need to know before the Stars and Predators face off at Cotton Bowl Stadium]
"I've probably been to a dozen Cotton Bowl games in my life. I've seen all of the Texas-OU games," said Bateman, who has been working with a crew of ice-makers from across the NHL. "It's going to be an awesome event. Just being out there at night and working, and thinking that Tom Landry walked the sidelines here, that's a pretty cool thing."
Of course, it's also a pretty challenging thing.
Texas weather reared its ugly head on Saturday and a thunderstorm ruined pretty much all of the work the crew had done before Christmas. So they basically started over, building up the ice one layer at a time, painting everything white, and laying the markings (which are fabric for this game).
It was a display of the skill of the group that the ice actually could look better and skate better the second time around.
Video: Ice build begins at Cotton Bowl for Winter Classic
"I have never seen anything like what we had to go through the other day, but it's just a great testament to the entire ice crew that they have been able to go and fix it," said Bateman.
This is his sixth outdoor game, and he has been part of crews that deal with challenges in places like Annapolis, Maryland and Santa Clara, California. He said that working beside people who share his passion has been the best part of the experiences.
"It's a brotherhood," Bateman said. "A lot of these guys I've known for years, and we all text back and forth throughout the season. It's definitely fun to learn from watching. We each have different talents and different skills that we're better at, so you can learn so much from each other. I think that's how I've been able to progress, just watching and talking to people. They've done the same thing I have done -- trial and error."
Bateman loved the Stars and loved hockey growing up, and that led him to get a job at the ice rink in the old Tandy Center Mall in Fort Worth. He parlayed that into jobs with the Stars, and that eventually led him to work at American Airlines Center with Dave Westby, the ice guru that Bob Gainey brought from Minnesota.
Bateman carries on the work of Westby and gives a lot of credit to his mentor. The AAC has some of the best technology on the planet, and that makes the job a lot easier.
"I've got to give all of the credit to Mr. Westby on that one," Bateman said. "We have enough power to freeze three ice rinks, and the mechanical system is as good as it gets. This was designed to be a high-end ice rink, and it really is."
That said, making ice is a sort of liquid business that can be mercurial. Bateman said experience is the best thing you can have in the industry.
"Hard knocks, trial and error," he said when asked how he learned to mix the engineering, mechanics and chemistry of the job. "There's nothing that I haven't broken or screwed up and then learned my lessons on. I learned it by doing it. There's not really a school for it. It's a blue-collar job, you show up every day and figure things out."
That's the same with the crew he is working with, especially when you consider the job of making ice outdoors for a one-time event is so much different than the day job. Still, when they're walking the ice looking for blemishes that can be fixed, there is a familiar feeling that comes from understanding the process.
"The whole group has been so much fun to be around," Bateman said. "These are some of the best icemakers on the planet, and they're all here working together. We all want this to be the best ice we can have here, so we see it as a challenge."
A challenge that is especially significant to Bateman. This is the farthest south an outdoor game has been played. This is in the Great State of Texas. This is at the iconic Cotton Bowl on the grounds of the Texas State Fair. That means something.
"Just walking the Fairgrounds with my mom and eating Fletcher's Corny Dogs -- all of that comes back to you," he said. "I really think the fan experience is going to be one of the best ever. There's so much that's involved with this game. If you've been to the State Fair in the past, I definitely think that's going to bring back great memories."
And make new ones.
Which might mean that Bateman isn't so unique after all. Apparently after 20-something years of Stars hockey, there is a large group of native Texans who now love the sport as much as they love football and Corny Dogs.
"I'll probably know 1,000 people who will be there," Bateman said. "They all grew up the same as I did, and I think they all have similar experiences with the Fair and the Cotton Bowl, and I really do think that's why this will be fun."
2020 NHL Winter Classic: Stars vs. Predators
Wednesday, 12:30 p.m. CT
Where: Cotton Bowl Stadium, Dallas
TV/radio: NBC; The Ticket 1310-AM, 96.7-FM
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.