THRILLS

Wednesday January 3 Feeling puckish: Though they are the last team on the totem pole in Denver's major-league sport sweepstakes, the Colorado Avalanche pucksters take a back seat to no one. The ex-Nordiques from Quebec have swept onto Mile High ice for a fine season in the National Hockey League, topped off by the recent addition of hotshot goalie Patrick Roy (French for "king," if you didn't already know). The New Jersey Devils, on the other hand, aren't exactly having a Cinderella season, but their success in the past gained them fans here and across the nation (they were once based in Colorado before they started winning). The two teams, conquering top dogs and lovable underdogs, face off tonight at 7 at McNichols Arena; for tickets call 830-TIXS.

Thursday January 4 The Ealing arts: There's hardly anything in popular culture more finely crafted--or more hilarious--than the sterling comedies cranked out prodigiously by Britain's Ealing studios for more than two decades, from 1938 to 1960. Starring a memorable revolving stable of character actors including Alec Guinness, Stanley Holloway, Margaret Rutherford and Peter Sellers, they are now the focus of Across the Pond: A Tribute to Ealing Studios, a jaunty series leading off the Boulder Public Library's winter film program. The series, which opens tonight at 7:30 with Rutherford and Holloway at the helm of Passport to Pimlico, continues through the month with some of the freshest five-star chestnuts you could ever hope to crack--including Kind Hearts and Coronets (featuring Guinness playing eight roles, famously), The Lavender Hill Mob, The Man in the White Suit and The Ladykillers. As always, admission to films at the Boulder Public Library Auditorium, 1000 Canyon Blvd., Boulder, is free; call 441-3100.

All that jazz: Suffering from post-party depression? There's no better way to recoup your good spirits after the holidays are over than by laying back and having some more fun. If you happen to love good jazz, a tony time can always be had at the Park Hill Golf Club Mainstream Jazz Evening series, which starts the year off in high style with a reunion of Summit Festival veterans. Included in the lineup are pianist Ralph Sutton, reedmen Kenny Davern and Bob Wilbur, bassist Bob Haggart, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli and drummer Bob Rosengarden--a group of seasoned musicians whose collective list of credits could easily fill this page. Catch them tonight through Saturday at the club, 4141 E. 35th Ave. Dinner is served from 5:30 to 9:30 and music begins at 7. To reserve seats, $30 a head, call 333-5414 or 333-2940.

Friday January 5 Tale blazer: As the annual January diaspora of cowpokes begins to file into the state for the upcoming stock show sporting the usual big hats, bandannas, spurs and chaps, we natives can't help but be reminded of the region's Wild West heritage. The Town Arts Center, 2450 W. Main St., Littleton, offers an entertaining head start on the season by presenting local stage and film actor Bil Rodgers in the solo effort Last of the Old Time Cowboys. Rodgers mixes humor, tall tales, fact and fiction into his one-man portrayal of Texas cowboy C.Y. Young, who migrated to Colorado in the 1870s, tonight and tomorrow night at 8. Git along, little dogies: Tickets are $10 ($8 seniors and students); call 794-2787.

Saturday January 6 West stop: It's hard to believe the very first National Western Stock Show, Rodeo and Horse Show, making its debut in 1906, even fit into one little ole tent. But indeed it did--and ninety years later, it still takes place in the same general vicinity. Except now it sprawls over eighty acres at the National Western Complex, I-70 and Brighton Blvd., and features events that stretch across two weeks. This year's spectacle bursts out of the gate today with a regional favorite--the Mexican Rodeo, a colorful, silver-studded, pegged-panted beauty starring trick roper and impeccable horseman Jerry Diaz and his prancing entourage, scheduled for 7:30 tonight and 3 p.m. tomorrow. PRCA rodeo events, horse shows, livestock competitions, children's activities, a trained buffalo and the Budweiser Clydesdales fill out the show's remaining days, continuing through January 21. For information and tickets, $1 to $7 for daily grounds admission (or $10 horse-show admission, $8-$15 rodeo admission, gate fee included), call 295-1660 or stop by the box office at 4655 Humboldt St.

Out with the mold: It's nothing to be ashamed of--we've all had an old fruitcake in the closet at one time or another. Now you can oust yours with a glorious primal scream--just bring that rock-hard beauty down to the Great Fruitcake Toss in Manitou Springs, an inaugural post-holiday competition (distantly related to the shot put, we guess) in picturesque Manitou Springs, just west of Colorado Springs on U.S. 24. Activities, which take place from 11 to 2 in the town's Memorial Park, include fruitcake launches, tosses and hurls, as well as a sticky-handed relay, a spatula race, and individual prizes for the weightiest, loveliest and most glamorous entries. Winners get T-shirts--what more could you ask for? If anything, it's a good excuse for a drive, and it's an especially great way to say, as a famous poet once exhorted, "Take thy stench from out my house and feed the ravens evermore/Give me fruitcake--nevermore!" For information, rules and regulations, call 1-800-642-2567.

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