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NHL Winter Classic headed for Cotton Bowl: A look at preparations for outdoor game

Thomas Barrabi

Preparations are underway for the 2019 NHL Winter Classic, where hockey officials will use a top-dollar production budget to turn the venerable Cotton Bowl in temperate Dallas, Texas into a winter wonderland.

Since the Cotton Bowl is an enormous 90,000-seat outdoor stadium best known as the former home of its namesake college football contest, the NHL has to build out an entire ice rink for its annual showcase event. In a days-long process, production officials use the Ice Plant, a 53-foot, 300-ton mobile refrigeration unit, to create a playing surface that can hold up to the Texas sun.

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"The weather is a challenge for all of these outdoor games, so we'll monitor that closely," Derek King, the NHL’s senior manager of facilities operations, told NHL.com. "We've got a monitoring system that we'll put in the ice and a weather station on the field. If it's going to be bright and sunny during the day, we'll cover the sheet.”

NHL officials were not immediately available for comment on production costs for this year’s Winter Classic. However, previous editions of the game carried a production budget of about $10 million, and generally turned a profit.

The refrigeration unit keeps the ice temperature at roughly 22 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain a playable ice surface in an outdoor environment. The system pumps in up to 3,000 gallons of coolant into aluminum trays under the ice to aid the process.

According to the current forecast, the temperature in Dallas on the day of the game is projected to be 56 degrees with a chance for afternoon showers. NHL operations officials make the rink ice thicker than usual for the Winter Classic to help withstand the elements.

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Tickets to the event won’t come cheap. The cheapest available seat at the Cotton Bowl was $156 as of Friday, according to secondary market platform Vivid Seats. Prices for a seat in the stadium’s inner ring approached $800.

Previous editions of the Winter Classic were held at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind., City Field in Queens, N.Y., and Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. The event regularly draws a sellout crowd.

The Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators will face off in this year’s event on New Year’s Day at 2 p.m. ET. It will be the first outdoor NHL game ever played in Texas.

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