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Hockey's Winter Classic Thrills The Biggest Crowd To Ever See A Stars Game

The Dallas Stars won their first-ever Winter Classic Wednesday. The National Hockey League’s annual outdoor New Year's Day game was played in the Cotton Bowl. 

Dallas came back to beat the Nashville Predators, 4-2. The crowd topped 85,000 – the most to ever see a Stars game in person.

It was a cool but happy 55-degree day for the Dallas Stars fans who packed the Cotton Bowl under overcast skies.  The league says 20,000 tickets came through Nashville. 

Tyler Brandenburg and Erica Swift made the 12-hour trek from Tennessee.  Brandenburg had seen outdoor hockey before, between Detroit and Toronto, when they played six years ago in the Univ. of Michigan's Stadium – called The Big House. He and Swift now appreciate the Cotton Bowl.

“It’s impressive,” said Brandenburg. “It’s nice that it’s not 13 degrees this time and a blizzard. So the weather’s nice, the atmosphere’s the same. The big house is a little bigger but you wouldn’t really know it based on how full the stadium is.”

“I’ve never seen this many people cheering for hockey," Swift added. "I’m pumped.”

Dallas fans, like Bridget Hartwell, seemed to share the feeling. 

“The fan intensity was awesome,” Hartwell said. “Like, 85,000 people? And it’s an intimate setting."

She said she was afraid the weather would be too warm for the game and she wouldn't have a good view from her seat at the Cotton bowl, "but it was a really good view." 

"Just being in the open air - it was a nice, cold Texas day," Hartwell said. "We were afraid it was going to be 70 degrees and it wasn’t!”

While Hartwell laughed heartily at her weather observation, Stars fan Sue Boyle wasn’t laughing when Nashville took a 2-goal lead in the beginning of the game. Dallas finally scored nearly two-thirds of the way through the game.  

“They started out a little slow for us,” Boyle said. “I have to say it was a little frightening. But, you know, after that it was all Stars."

She was pleased with the weather and the win.

"It was wonderful," Boyle said. "Couldn’t have asked for better weather, couldn’t have asked for a better outcome of the game.”

In a Winter Classic first, Stars player Corey Perry was the first player to ever be ejected from an NHL Winter Classic game after he elbowed Nashville's Ryan Ellis in the head. Perry said the hit was an unintentional part of an "awkward play."

"It's very unintentional," Perry told ESPN. "I didn't mean to hurt him. I hope he's OK."

The NHL Player Safety department said the play will be reviewed at a hearing Friday.

Though the game was filled with drama, the NHL probably couldn’t have asked for better weather in Dallas. It was cool enough, didn’t rain and no bright sun melted the ice or blinded the players.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.