With or without a spleen, Örnsköldsvik, Sweden's gift to the Colorado Avalanche has been the team's most vital organ this year -- especially when captain Joe Sakic was shelved by injury. En route to another playoff appearance, eight-year veteran Peter Forsberg leads the team in points and assists and was named NHL player of the month for February. More important, the Super Swede has taken emotional charge of an Avs club that struggled through the early season in disarray but has re-emerged as a dangerous Stanley Cup contender. And to think Forsberg's career looked to be over two years ago following that vicious hit he suffered in game seven against the Los Angeles Kings.


Starting his second year with the Colorado Rapids, stop-minded midfielder Pablo Mastroeni is a true star -- not least because of his impressive play for the U.S. National Team that shocked soccer powers like Portugal and Mexico at last summer's World Cup before their heartbreaking loss to Germany. Born in Argentina, Mastroeni moved to Phoenix when he was four. He played college soccer at North Carolina State and was with the now-defunct Miami Fusion of Major League Soccer before the Rapids grabbed him in last year's dispersal draft. This season, look for the 26-year-old defensive specialist to attack more for the Rapids. And don't count him out of World Cup 2006.
Starting his second year with the Colorado Rapids, stop-minded midfielder Pablo Mastroeni is a true star -- not least because of his impressive play for the U.S. National Team that shocked soccer powers like Portugal and Mexico at last summer's World Cup before their heartbreaking loss to Germany. Born in Argentina, Mastroeni moved to Phoenix when he was four. He played college soccer at North Carolina State and was with the now-defunct Miami Fusion of Major League Soccer before the Rapids grabbed him in last year's dispersal draft. This season, look for the 26-year-old defensive specialist to attack more for the Rapids. And don't count him out of World Cup 2006.


We gotta pick somebody, don't we? The only sign of useful maturity in the chaotic kindergarten that is the Denver Nuggets locker room comes from long-suffering veteran Juwan Howard, late of the league-best Dallas Mavericks. At 6-9 and 260 pounds, the big forward has the beef to muscle up on opponents, and his personal numbers during this winter of discontent befit a winner, not a member of the NBA's second-worst team. Howard's averaging almost nineteen points per game, along with eight rebounds and three assists. As of mid-March, he'd led or co-led Jeff Bzdelik's offensively challenged club in scoring in 29 of its last 35 games and showed himself to be a solid professional, grinding out almost 38 minutes per night of losing basketball without complaint. Once he's done, there surely must be a place in hoops heaven for this intrepid warrior.
We gotta pick somebody, don't we? The only sign of useful maturity in the chaotic kindergarten that is the Denver Nuggets locker room comes from long-suffering veteran Juwan Howard, late of the league-best Dallas Mavericks. At 6-9 and 260 pounds, the big forward has the beef to muscle up on opponents, and his personal numbers during this winter of discontent befit a winner, not a member of the NBA's second-worst team. Howard's averaging almost nineteen points per game, along with eight rebounds and three assists. As of mid-March, he'd led or co-led Jeff Bzdelik's offensively challenged club in scoring in 29 of its last 35 games and showed himself to be a solid professional, grinding out almost 38 minutes per night of losing basketball without complaint. Once he's done, there surely must be a place in hoops heaven for this intrepid warrior.


No contest. A battle-hardened veteran of six teams in two professional lacrosse leagues, forward Gary Gait is the Michael Jordan of the Indians' grand old game -- the all-time record-holder for regular-season goals, assists, points and shots. Even at age 35, his skills have not eroded. As captain of the expansion Colorado Mammoth, the 6-2, 220-pounder this year leads the National Lacrosse League in goals, and he is fifth in total points. Gait's world-class resumé also includes five league MVP trophies and a spot on the All-Pro team in every one of his thirteen pro seasons. The Big Stick played his college lax at Syracuse, a perennial power, and he's still the reigning king of the indoor game.
No contest. A battle-hardened veteran of six teams in two professional lacrosse leagues, forward Gary Gait is the Michael Jordan of the Indians' grand old game -- the all-time record-holder for regular-season goals, assists, points and shots. Even at age 35, his skills have not eroded. As captain of the expansion Colorado Mammoth, the 6-2, 220-pounder this year leads the National Lacrosse League in goals, and he is fifth in total points. Gait's world-class resumé also includes five league MVP trophies and a spot on the All-Pro team in every one of his thirteen pro seasons. The Big Stick played his college lax at Syracuse, a perennial power, and he's still the reigning king of the indoor game.
Things haven't been easy for the rookie CEO of the Colorado Crush, Denver's new entry in the Arena Football League. Despite sellouts at the Pepsi Center, John Elway's team has won just once in its first seven games. But the ex-Broncos legend has one thing going for him: the most prolific scorer in the world's highest-scoring league. In seven games, 6-3 receiver Damian Harrell has caught 21 touchdown passes and scored three two-point conversions for 132 points. At the rate he's going, the four-year AFL veteran out of Florida State will surpass the individual season record of 310 points, set by Orlando's Barry Wagner in 1997.
Things haven't been easy for the rookie CEO of the Colorado Crush, Denver's new entry in the Arena Football League. Despite sellouts at the Pepsi Center, John Elway's team has won just once in its first seven games. But the ex-Broncos legend has one thing going for him: the most prolific scorer in the world's highest-scoring league. In seven games, 6-3 receiver Damian Harrell has caught 21 touchdown passes and scored three two-point conversions for 132 points. At the rate he's going, the four-year AFL veteran out of Florida State will surpass the individual season record of 310 points, set by Orlando's Barry Wagner in 1997.


An awful start to the 2002-03 season cost Bob Hartley his job after almost five years behind the Avalanche bench, and young Tony Granato emerged in late December as both irritant and

inspiration for a veteran club that had grown listless and stale. Granato shifted Peter Forsberg from left wing to center (with brilliant results), helped transform big Scott Parker from goon to useful third-line grinder and dramatically improved the tone of the team dressing room. Almost to a man, the Avs praise Granato -- not long gone from the NHL ice himself -- for his patience, his game-day smarts and his belief in individual accountability. For the moment, the Avs are intent on catching Vancouver in the Northwest Division standings; after that, they've clearly got their eyes on a much larger prize. Paying attention, Detroit?

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