Best Rockie 2002 | Todd Helton | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Any ballplayer who will earn more than $150 million in the next nine years had better be worth it, and first baseman Todd Helton fits the bill. Last season -- a misery for the Colorado Rockies -- Helton added a National League batting title and 49 home runs to his resumé, and he is, by a long shot, the most valuable member of the Rockies' Big Four, which includes right-fielder Larry Walker and starters Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle. Helton's long-term contract guarantees stability; his faultless work ethic, superb defense and winning personality guarantee the fans' approval even in off years. He's only 28; he has the highest career batting average (.334) of any present major-leaguer, and the best years of all might still lie ahead.

There are some -- well, many, actually -- grumbling that the Rox' tenth year will be spent chasing their tails before settling comfortably into the cellar again. However, things could turn around, and with a core of players such as Helton, Neagle, Hampton and Walker, a little fielding, some relief pitching and timely hitting could work miracles for the ex-Blake Street Bombers. Perhaps the biggest key will be Zeile's return to third and his ability to stretch for balls down the hot corner. Imagine a great team, then root for them.

Is there something -- anything -- the Avalanche captain hasn't done for his club? With over fourteen years and more than 1,000 games as a Quebec Nordique and then a Colorado Av, center Joe Sakic has won a dozen individual NHL awards and two Stanley Cups (both here in Denver) while providing crucial leadership for young teammates. Hard-nosed yet graceful, the future hall-of-famer remains near the top of the league scoring charts this year, and his vicious left-handed shot continues to be a key weapon in the Avs' current run at a third Cup. And to think he nearly defected and became a New York Ranger four years ago. Just for grins, in February Sakic also led Team Canada to its first Olympic hockey gold medal in half a century.
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With everybody except Dick Cheney poised and watching, the Avs' great playmaker stepped onto the ice March 28 at the Family Sports Center and gingerly skated for the first time since undergoing surgery on his left foot in January. Peter the Great spent sixteen minutes scooting around, and afterward pronounced the experiment a success. But will he have enough magic to heal himself in time to lead a Stanley Cup run?
Baffled Denverites who can name four current Denver Nuggets deserve some kind of prize -- a Dan Issel bobble-head doll, perhaps? -- but Juwan Howard has emerged as the star acquisition in the big midseason trade that sent whiny guard Nick Van Exel and slow white guy Raef LeFrentz to Dallas. With injured Antonio McDyess limited in terms of minutes, Howard is leading Mike Evans's semi-resurgent Nuggets in scoring and rebounds; his sheer toughness in the post has given GM Kiki Vandeweghe new hope that he can finally build a winner at the Pepsi Center -- otherwise known as Avland.

In his first season with the Colorado Rapids, Scottish forward John Spencer set new franchise records for goals (14) and points (35) while infusing a mediocre (5-13-8) club with a never-say-die attitude and a workhorse ethic. The 31-year-old played previously for Chelsea and Everton in the English Premiere League and gave up big money on the far side of the Atlantic to play Major League Soccer in the United States. Teammates here quickly recognized his spirit and leadership skills: He's been named team captain for 2002.

Anyone who has the legendary Patrick Roy in the nets, Rob Blake on defense, Joe Sakic at center and three or four of the best young players in the NHL scrapping just to get in the game might look like a pretty fair hockey coach. But Bob Hartley doesn't mail it in. His Colorado Avalanche fought their way to a second Stanley Cup win last season without the services of major star Peter Forsberg, and they're leading their division by daylight this season despite the retirement of Raymond Bourque. Now in his fourth season here, Hartley keeps his Avs focused and sharp through any crisis, and those despised Detroit Red Wings better look out again come playoff time.

When Metropolitan State College's basketball team won its first NCAA Division II national championship two years ago, it was ranked number one in the country. The Roadrunners grabbed their second title this season from the lowly number-22 spot. That is testament to the skills of fifth-year head coach Mike Dunlap, who preaches impenetrable defense and disciplined shooting. The 'runners finished 29-6 this year, after upsetting defending champion (and old foe) Kentucky Wesleyan in the Division II title game, and the club's top two scorers -- Patrick Mutombo and Luke Kendall -- will return next year. But will Dunlap? Division I schools are more interested than ever in Metro's 44-year-old coaching wizard.
While Denver's pro football, baseball, basketball and soccer teams looked up from the bottom of their leagues, the Colorado Avalanche continued to make history. Last spring Bob Hartley's troops knocked off powerhouses like Los Angeles and St. Louis en route to a Stanley Cup finals showdown with the New Jersey Devils. Longtime Boston Bruin Ray Bourque won the nation's heart by winning his first Cup here in Denver; goalie Patrick Roy showed again why he is the best in the history of the game; Joe Sakic shone, and the Avs' solid defense handily shut down the New Jersey attack. Is there another Cup in the offing this year? The guys in the $300 seats on the blue lines think so.

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