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Texas-sized NHL Winter Classic for Stars, Preds in Cotton

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Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Nashville Predators' Ryan Ellis (4) goes into the corner for the puck as Pittsburgh Penguins' Sam Lafferty (37) pursues during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

DALLAS, TX – Welcome to a Texas-sized NHL Winter Classic.

The annual showcase is going to be one big outdoor game when the Dallas Stars host the Nashville Predators at the historic Cotton Bowl Stadium on Wednesday — even without “Big Tex” booming out the customary “Howdy, folks!” that visitors to the State Fair of Texas hear each fall.

More than 84,000 fans are expected for the NHL's 12th New Year's Day game, this one at the stadium where the boots belonging to the fair's iconic 55-foot talking cowboy will be rink side near an oversized, ranch-style entry arch. It is expected to be the second-largest crowd ever for an NHL game.

Part of the fair's midway just outside the historic stadium, including a 212-foot high Ferris wheel and other carnival rides, will be open for those with tickets before and after the NHL's southernmost outdoor game.

“It started as a bit of a pipe dream,” said Stars CEO Jim Lites, whose team hosted its first NHL draft in 2018 at its arena only a few miles from the Cotton Bowl.

Now an NHL game is being played inside the stadium that is home to the annual Red River college football rivalry game between Texas and Oklahoma that has been played during the State Fair for 90 years. The Cotton Bowl game was played there each New Year's Day until a decade ago, and the Dallas Cowboys called it home for their first 12 seasons, from 1960-71.

“It'll be a nice venue, have a good feel, and everybody in Texas and this area, they know about the Cotton Bowl,” Stars center Joe Pavelski said. “I think that's a big draw as well, come see something different there.”

Pavelski signed with Dallas as a free agent last summer after his first 13 NHL seasons with the San Jose Sharks, who hosted the Los Angeles Kings in a Stadium Series game at the home stadium of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers in 2015.