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.

Not long ago, CU was regarded as a football school. Now that tradition lies not just broken, but shattered. So thank goodness for the men's basketball team. In the past few years, the hardwood Buffs have grown from surprising upstarts into a consistent squad whose members absolutely expect to be playing at tournament time. This season likely would have been even more impressive had top prospect Spencer Dinwiddie avoided a season-ending knee injury. Yet promising youngsters such as Xavier Johnson and Wesley Gordon suggest that the future will be even brighter than the present.

It's only been three years since Tad Boyle became head coach of CU's men's basketball squad. But in that time, he's managed to remake the team in his image, infusing the program with the winning spirit he learned from the legendary Larry Brown while a player at Kansas. The back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances in 2012 and 2013 were the first double dip for CU in half a century, and we expect more records to fall the longer Boyle sticks around Boulder.

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