A first-ever trip to the disabled list and a mysterious, self-acknowledged mental funk compromised Todd Helton's ninth season in purple pinstripes, but by the end of 2005, the steady first baseman wound up the fifth-best hitter in the National League at .320. This year he remains the rock of the Rockies, the foundation on which Clint Hurdle's inexperienced club is built. Helton has enjoyed just one winning season (2000) since joining the club, but at 32, the .337 career hitter sees happier times ahead for the league's youngest team. "If we don't get in the way of ourselves," he predicts, "we have a chance." Just call the team Todd and the Toddlers.
In mid-March, Quebec-born Alex Tanguay was leading the post-Peter Forsberg Colorado Avalanche in goals, assists and points. A left-handed stick with quick moves and a powerful slapshot, the sixth-year winger is also blessed with good size (6'1", 190 pounds) and unshakable will -- appealing assets as the NHL tries to skate back into the public's heart after a near-fatal work stoppage last season. Look for Tanguay and team captain Joe Sakic to shine in the playoffs.
Now that the Michael Jordan of lacrosse, Gary Gait, has moved to the sideline to coach his old team, Colorado Mammoths forward Gavin Prout has inherited the boss's mantle as the team's top scorer, assist man and points leader. From Whitby, Ontario, the 5'10" speedster also has the respect of fellow players in the league: He was voted assistant captain of the West Division squad in this year's National Lacrosse League All-Star Game.
For the second straight season, Colorado Rapids coaches and players named their 6'2" goalie, Joe Cannon, as most valuable player. Along with his penchant for acrobatic saves -- he sported a 1.25 goals-against average last year -- Cannon was lauded for his leadership on and off the field. Major League Soccer's 2004 Goalkeeper of the Year returns for this third season in a Rapids jersey and, at age thirty, looms a top choice to be the starting goalie for the U.S. National Team in the World Cup.
In the high-scoring Arena Football League, gaudy offensive statistics come as no shock, but try these on for size: 122 catches, 1,486 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. Those are the 2005 numbers for Colorado Crush offensive specialist Damian Harrell -- enough to earn him the league's Offensive Player of the Year award as the Crush won its first Arena Bowl title. The 6'3" former Florida State wideout has been on the Crush roster since the beginning, back in 2003; in tandem with quarterback John Dutton, he's running up the yardage again.
John Elway has long known the taste of pay dirt, but when the Arena Football League team he co-owns (with a couple of guys named Bowlen and Kroenke) won the Arena Bowl championship on June 27, 2005, in Las Vegas, the famous ex-quarterback took special satisfaction. The Colorado Crush had been a member of the league for just three seasons -- in 2003, the team's record was a dismal 2-14 -- and it wasn't until Elway replaced original head coach Bob Beers (a longtime Elway family friend) with AFL veteran Mike Dailey that the Crush's fortunes took a turn for the better, culminating with the 51-48 win over the Georgia Force in Arena Bowl XIX. Last year Elway explained the new pressures of being an owner: "When you get to the game, you feel helpless.... I'm used to touching the ball every down. When you're up in the box, you think about what could go wrong." On June 27, almost nothing did. And the team's 6-2 record so far this season bodes well for a shot at a championship repeat.
Going into last year's NCAA playoffs, the Denver Pioneers (of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association) were underdogs -- even in the eyes of their archrivals from Colorado College. Little matter that the Pis had won the 2004 NCAA championship in a 1-0 nail-biter over favored Maine; this wasn't the same team -- not without star goalie Adam Berkhoel, now lost to graduation. But when the ice cleared at the 2005 Frozen Four, DU had secured its second straight NCAA title with a 4-1 win over North Dakota. Last week, the Pioneers failed to earn a bid for the 2006 NCAA tournament, but their two straight titles earn them top honors.
If they were playing in the softer Eastern Conference, the Denver Nuggets -- led by Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby -- might really be flying high. As it is, though, they aren't doing too bad (first in the NBA West's Northwest Division), and much of the credit goes to no-nonsense coach George Karl, who hasn't posted a losing NBA season in fourteen years and who has a knack for turning struggling franchises around. After Karl took over from Jeff Bzdelik at mid-season last year, the revived Nuggets went on a 32-8 tear, winning 19 of 20 at the Pepsi Center before falling to the eventual world-champion San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. This year? The team still lacks a reliable outside shooter, but if Karl has anything to say about it, the Nuggets won't lack for toughness as the season winds down.
In the first nine years of his tenure as the University of Denver's hockey coach, George Gwozdecky's scrappy Pioneers had their brief moments of glory. For example, the 1998 team won 26 games after losing 25 the year before. But now the Pioneers remain on top of the college-hockey world. With Gwozdecky (University of Wisconsin, class of 1978) behind the bench, they won the sixth NCAA national championship of their 55-year history in 2004, and their seventh title last year. The 2005 crew was the first WCHA team since 1997 to capture the MacNaughton Cup, the Broadmoor Trophy and the NCAA national championship in the same season, and Gwozdecky is the only coach in NCAA history to win national titles as a player, an assistant coach and a head coach. Does anyone now dare to think "three-peat"? At the Ritchie Center on the DU campus, the whispers have already started.
Sleek and blond, she looked lovely in her February 2004 photo spread for FHM Magazine, and she clearly had a ball as an honorary starter for this year's Daytona 500. But 25-year-old Gretchen Bleiler, a native of Ohio who's lived in Aspen since she was ten, is at her best in the half-pipe, throwing spins, flipping and getting good air. Prior to the 2006 Winter Olympics, she suffered a nasty black eye while perfecting her signature move, an inverted spinning trick called, ominously, the "crippler" -- but that didn't keep her from winning silver in Torino, one of four medals won by American women in the snowboarding events.

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