Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Usually, this honor goes to the folks who call games on TV or radio — like, for instance, last year's winner, Voice of the Colorado Avalanche Mike Haynes. Kyle Speller, in contrast, is the Nuggets' public-address announcer — but for those who see the team live at the Pepsi Center, he's nearly as big a contributor to a great time as Supermascot Rocky. His vocal whoops and swoops when the squad is doing well are enthusiasm-igniters, his downbeat tone when the other team comes through lets fans know he feels their pain, and when the "Kiss Cam" is switched on, even Barry White couldn't set the mood better.
We know, we know: Praising Peyton Manning after the team's most recent Super Bowl humiliation feels wrong somehow. But remember the season that preceded that blowout. Not only did Number 18 set a whole slew of Broncos records, but he shattered marks for touchdown passes and yardage through the air for the league as a whole en route to his unprecedented fifth Most Valuable Player award. And even though that loss to the Seahawks was agonizing, it provides some mighty big incentive for Peyton to get the Men in Orange back to the Promised Land — and win this time.
Michael Cuddyer is hardly the most charismatic member of the Rockies; he seems more like he should be selling insurance than playing Major League Baseball at the highest level. But quietly and without fanfare, he led the squad in a slew of key offensive statistics during 2013, including batting average (an impressive .331), RBIs (84) and hits (162). Moreover, he slugged twenty home runs — just six off the pace set by the much more high-profile Carlos Gonzalez — and played in the second-highest number of games of anyone on the roster. He may not look like a star, but he sure plays like one.
A good way to measure a player's importance is to track how his team performs without him. And by that measure, Ty Lawson is far and away the Nugs' main man. The Denver ballers have had a dispiriting season, but when Lawson is on the court doing what he does best — pushing the pace, passing the rock, and scoring buckets when everyone else has gone cold — they've been competitive, and sometimes better than that. And when he's been on the shelf with rib injuries and other issues? They could suck the cold off the North Pole. If any Nugget is indispensable, it's Ty.
Matt Duchene is the most highly touted addition to the Colorado Avalanche in recent years, and while he's hardly been a disappointment, he hasn't always hit the heights predicted for him. This year, however, has been his coming-out party. He's led the team in points for the majority of the season, but more than that, he's turned heads with his incredible speed on the ice — is he actually getting faster? — and growing knowledge of the game. No wonder he was added to the absolutely loaded Canadian Olympic hockey squad; that gold medal he brought back will no doubt whet his appetite for achieving similar glory in the NHL.
You can be forgiven for thinking that Deshorn Brown is a longtimer for the Rapids, because he certainly plays like a veteran. But he didn't come aboard until January 2013, when Colorado selected him in the first round of the Major League Soccer SuperDraft. Since then, all he's done is score...and score...and score. He led the Rapids in goals for 2013, notching twice as many as his next closest teammate (Dillon Powers), and he kept up his incredible pace throughout this pre-season. With the regular season just under way, we expect that Brown, a native of Jamaica, will continue to get fans naturally high — on game-winners.
We hand this prize to John Grant year after year, for a very good reason: Not only is he the best player on his team, but he's among the top performers in the entire sport. During the 2013 season, he led the Mammoth in goals, assists, points and shots on goal, was twice named the National Lacrosse League's offensive player of the week, and currently stands as the NLL's all-time leader in career points per game. As a bonus, his one-handed, behind-the-back goal during a game in January is already the stuff of lacrosse legend.
No need to remind Chris Bocklet that he's a little brother. One of his older siblings, Matt Bocklet, is a member of the Outlaws, too. But Chris didn't just best big bro in points scored; he led the entire team in that category. Thanks to his performances, he's gone from being a steady contributor to an absolute key to the lacrosse team's success. And last year, as a bonus, he served as offensive coordinator for Wheat Ridge High School's squad, which won the state's 4A championship. Clearly, winning breeds winning.
The Denver Roller Dolls' traveling all-star team, the Mile High Club, spent all of 2013 near the top of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association rankings, won the Division 1 playoffs, and finished fourth at the WFTDA Championships. Now, five skaters — Julie "Angela Death" Adams, Jes "Bea Ware" Rivas, Shaina "Eeklips" Serelson, Tracy "Disco" Akers and Jerica "Urrk'n Jerk'n As Booty Block Ya" Martin — are joining Team USA for the 2014 Roller Derby World Cup. This season marks some big changes for the squad: After closing out a contract with the 1STBANK Center last year, the Dolls will be hosting all home bouts at their Glitterdome practice facility, taking their sport back to its warehouse roots.
Blocker/jammer Toxic Taunic got her start in 2010 and came in like a wrecking ball last season as team captain for the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls' 5280 Fight Club all-star team. Although crosstown rivals the Denver Roller Dolls' Mile High Club fared better on the national scene, Taunic helped to ensure that the Rollergirls got local bragging rights with a 207-201 squeaker in June at the Fillmore and an even closer 165-164 win at RollerCon in Las Vegas in August. Watch for the rematch when Denver's two premier leagues face off again on June 26 at RollerCon.
We're still trying to forget the way the Broncos' season ended: No matter how many times we blink, we still can't un-see Seattle scoring 43 points to Denver's 8 in the most widely viewed Super Bowl ever. But the season as a whole was spectacular, with Peyton Manning and a slew of pass-catchers, including Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Eric Decker, turning the scoreboard into a light display and the defense giving points back at a pace that managed to keep the games suspenseful while still preserving victories. The result was exciting in all the ways the Super Bowl wasn't.