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Texas hockey ready for its close-up at Winter Classic

From a 'cowboy' vibe to rustic fonts and music acts, the Cotton Bowl will be Lone Star-themed on Jan. 1

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

DALLAS -- Steve Mayer knows a thing or two about big productions.

The NHL's chief content officer has helped put on shows from Boston to New York to St. Louis to Los Angeles. So as he was working at Cotton Bowl Stadium this week to help get it ready for the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, Mayer had a big smile on his face.

"We love it," Mayer said as he observed the already constructed rink, the ice being built up, and the branding that will cover the walls of a football stadium that is being turned into a hockey rink.

"We want to make sure that when a fan tunes in, no matter where they are watching the game, that they know where the game is being produced."

While there have been outdoor games in many different venues, this will be the first Winter Classic played in the Sunbelt. It will pit two non-traditional hockey markets against one another, and it will definitely have a feel that is both Country and Western. From the "cowboy" vibe to the rustic fonts to the music acts, this Winter Classic definitely has a theme.

Video: 2020 Winter Classic will be more than a hockey game

The uniforms will call back to the history of hockey both in Texas and Tennessee, and the stadium and surrounding grounds will pay homage to the history of great State Fairs and Cotton Bowl football games.

"This is unique for us," Mayer said. "Texas hockey has really blossomed over the 25 years the Stars have been here, and this is the ode to that. It's a true showcase for how far the Dallas organization has come. And for fans who are in Boston or Chicago, when they tune in, we want to make sure they know we're at the Cotton Bowl, but they also know that we're in Texas."


[READ MORE: Everything you need to know for the NHL Winter Classic at Cotton Bowl Stadium]


Building the ice will be one of the unique challenges. The league has held outdoor games in Los Angeles and Santa Clara, California, and those are bigger weather challenges than Dallas. Still, the unpredictability of the weather means it could be at least a little difficult to install the ice and keep it in tip-top shape.

Mayer said he has faith in the NHL's team, led by Derek King.

"We have the greatest ice team in the world," Mayer said. "We've now been able to master building rinks in any condition. The sun is shining bright here in Dallas. The temperatures are ranging from the 40s through the 60s, and honestly that is OK by us. We're able to make ice in those conditions, and what we see in terms of the weather forecast for the next 10 days is it's staying pretty consistent. We're confident right now based on what we see and based on the great team building the ice that we're going to have great ice for the game."

Video: Ice build begins at Cotton Bowl for Winter Classic

King said the process is deliberate, and that the plan is a good one.

"With weather and the forecast that we've seen, we'll take from the 21st up until the 29th or 30th., King said. "That's our goal to have everything finished off -- ahead of time before the teams practice on the 31st."

The forecast is for moderate temperatures and sunshine. The league would prefer overcast so that the sun not only doesn't affect the ice, but doesn't make it difficult for players to see the puck outside.


[READ MORE: NHL to kick off Winter Classic with special pregame fan festival]


"The weather is a challenge for all of these outdoor games, so we'll monitor that closely," King said. "We've got a monitoring system that we'll put in the ice and a weather station on the field. We'll monitor the weather. If it's going to be bright and sunny during the day, we'll cover the sheet. The making of the ice will be done overnight. It will be a lot of long nights for the crew that will be doing that."

Meanwhile, the branding of the game in the venue will be taking place all around. There will me a Midway outside the stadium just like during the Texas-Oklahoma game, and there also will be homages to the Midway inside the stadium for the television audience.

Video: Seguin 'can't wait' to play in NHL Winter Classic

It's part of what Mayer does.

"The fact that we're activating the State Fair and then essentially bringing the State Fair inside the stadium, we think it's going to be exciting," Mayer said. "It's a great theme, a lot is going to be happening for fans, we're really super excited about how it is coming out so far."

Mayer said he has heard the criticism from fans that maybe it's a little too Texas, but he said he is producing an event for a much bigger audience.


[READ MORE: Texas band Midland joins Dan + Shay in Winter Classic music lineup]


"The balance of Texas and being too cliched and stereotyped, we're keeping that in mind," he said. "But at the same time, we're trying to show off what makes this area unique. When we're in St. Louis, that would be like saying, `Don't put the Arch in there or don't play blues music.' That's what makes you different from New York or some other place. It's what we do."

Mayer said the league also has listened when fans have spoken. Stars fans wanted public address announcer Jeff K. included, so the league did. Fans wanted tailgating in the parking lot, so the NHL changed its original policy.

Video: Stars discuss their excitement for outdoor game

In the end, everyone wants an event that will be fun for all.

"To me, it shows passion, and that people care. We care, too," Mayer said. "Are we trying to make everybody happy? Sure. But we also realize in this day and age that you cannot make everyone happy, so you try to do the best you can."

The NHL believes that best will be something totally different in Texas.

"That's what the beauty of this job happens to be. We don't go back to the same place, we change up every single year, every single game. That's what makes it uniquely fun for a creative person," Mayer said. "I love my job, because every single place we go, we try to make it look and feel different. That's the challenge, but that's what makes it fun.

"And Dallas is great. What a great city."

For complete coverage of the NHL Winter Classic, including ticket information and fan fest details, click here.

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 and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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