Thousands Turn Out for Avalanche Victory Celebration
DENVER (AP) _ About 200,000 Colorado Avalanche fans crammed shoulder-to-shoulder at Civic Center Park celebrated as team captain Joe Sakic officially presented the the coveted Stanley Cup.
The Cup represents Denver’s first professional sports championship. The presentation climaxed a two-hour tribute to the Avalanche, who brought home the NHL title after a four-game sweep of the Florida Panthers that ended with a triple-overtime 1-0 victory in Miami on Monday night.
Earlier Wednesday afternoon, police estimated that 450,000 people _ a quarter of the metropolitan area’s population if the estimate is accurate _ lined the glass-and-steel high-rise canyon of Denver’s 17th Street financial district. They watched as the Avalanche rode siren-blaring fire engines through town to the City Hall rally.
The Cup made one more public appearance late Wednesday night for 100 loyal fans who chanted outside a lower downtown Denver restaurant where the Avalanche had their private victory dinner.
Sakic once again walked out with the Cup held high and, with a police escort, walked just inside yellow police tape, allowing the lucky to touch it.
``I got just one slap on the bottom,″ said hockey fan Richard Torgerson, 51, of Denver. ``Whenever I see that Cup in the next decades, I’ll always say I touched it. It’s a rarity.″
As the crowd continued to cheer, Peter Forsberg, who scored three goals in the first period of Game 3 against the Panthers, came out and signed scores of hats and posters.
By then, Denver’s LoDo was otherwise quiet, unlike the 11th-hour celebration Monday night that was capped by police using tear gas to disperse a rowdy crowd.
At the City Hall celebration Wednesday, Sakic told the crowd:
``On behalf of my teammates, we’re proud to be members of the organization that brought this city its first world championship. There’s two things we learned about this city: One, it’s the nicest city in America and second, you the people of Denver and Colorado are the best sports fans in America.
``I won’t take too much of your time. We’re here to celebrate, so let’s have some fun.″
Clad in burgundy and blue Avalanche jerseys and caps, many waving pompons and chanting ``Av-A-Lanche″ and ``Stan-ley Cup,″ the parade watchers didn’t let a severe thunderstorm warning or sprinkles of rain cool their lusty welcome to the champion Avalanche.
Scott Brisco, 32, of Denver, arrived early and found a spot atop newspaper vending boxes, waving a large Avalanche banner hanging from a 5-foot flagpole.
``I went to Game 2 and had tickets for Game 5 (of the finals),″ Brisco said. ``This is fantastic. I grew up in Houston. The Rockets won back-to-back (NBA titles) there. I missed those, but I wasn’t about to miss this one.″
``Just one year ago we found out we were coming to Denver,″ Avalanche coach Marc Crawford said at the rally, a move that ended the team’s 16 years in Quebec as the Nordiques.
``It’s amazing what happens when you get proven winners and you put them together with the quality athletes we have in our group,″ Crawford said as his team sat to his right on the City Hall steps. ``I’m so thankful to these guys that I’m going to give them the day off tomorrow.″
Out in the packed crowd, former high school hockey player Dave Leasley, 24, of Denver, said, ``I wish I could see better, but that’s how it is downtown.″
Asked how he thought the Avalanche compared to the NBA Denver Nuggets and the NFL Denver Broncos, Leasley just laughed, then added, ``I still have faith in the Broncos and John Elway. To win the Super Bowl would be bigger than this _ 10 times bigger.″
President Clinton called the team before the parade to congratulate the players on their Stanley Cup championship.
The parade was broadcast live in Quebec, the team’s home prior to moving to Denver last May.
``The state of Colorado is now a big family with quality people and quality athletes that everyone should be proud of,″ Avalanche general manager Pierre Lacroix said. ``I’d also like to thank the people in Quebec for their great support over the years. We all understand what their feelings are right now. Thank you, Quebec.″