Denver Police Prepping for Raucous Celebrations After Avs Seal the Deal

Denver could get wild if the Avs win the Stanley Cup, as it did in 2001.
Denver could get wild if the Avs win the Stanley Cup, as it did in 2001. Getty Images/Brian Bahr
With the Colorado Avalanche one win away from securing its first Stanley Cup in over two decades, Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen is encouraging fans to celebrate responsibly.

"Stay out of the penalty box. We can do this. We’ve been here before. We’ve won the Cup before. We’ve won championships before. The best way to do that is to stay classy and show our support for the team and do it in a responsible way," Pazen said during a June 23 press conference in the Denver Crime Lab auditorium.

In particular, Pazen asked fans not to drink too much alcohol or consume too much marijuana during game five between the Avs and the Tampa Bay Lightning on June 24 at Ball Arena. And if they do overindulge, he asked them not to drive while impaired.

Whether or not the Avs win that game and so the championship, there will be a "significant amount of emergency responders" in the downtown area, he said. And the DPD is coordinating with local, state and federal partners on how to handle the crowds and public safety during any victory celebrations that occur.

Aside from the tens of thousands of fans who will be at Ball Arena for game five, there will be thousands of people at the Tivoli Quad for the official Colorado Avalanche watch party and at McGregor Square for another watch party. Add to those numbers the hordes of people hanging out in bars in the LoDo, Ballpark and RiNo neighborhoods, and there could be quite a crowd in the center of town following a victory (fingers crossed).

The chief noted that it may be difficult to access downtown by car after an Avalanche win, as law enforcement will be focused on getting cars and fans out of the Ball Arena area. Downtown residents should still be able to drive home, however.

Pazen said that his department is prepared to handle the crowds, and has learned some lessons since the George Floyd protests in 2020. "I’m very confident in our team, our local state and federal partners," he added. "We worked very hard to make sure that we do things in the safest manner possible. Additional training has taken place as well."

The chief declined to say how many cops will be downtown on June 24 in case the team wins, but did confirm that officers will be deployed using overtime.

Pazen also declined to say whether the city will grease light poles to prevent fans from climbing on them, a tactic that has been used by other municipalities to prevent serious injury. "We have paid attention to what plenty of other cities have done as well, without giving away any specific tactics," he said.

Pazen, the chief since 2018, began serving as a Denver police officer in 1995. The following year, the Avs — the transformed Nordiques franchise that had just moved from Quebec City to Denver — won the Stanley Cup. Since that was the first time that an NHL, MLB, NFL or NBA team based in the Mile High City had ever won a championship, fans went absolutely nuts. Police, clad in riot gear, used tear gas, pepper spray and batons to disperse thousands of revelers who'd lit newspapers (including copies of Westword) to set fires, overturned benches and climbed lampposts, Some fans threw rocks and bottles through bar and store windows downtown.

Police officers even pepper-sprayed reporter Charlie Brennan, who was covering the celebrations for the Rocky Mountain News. "I was immediately and completely disabled. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t see," Brennan recalls. "I still remember that as the most physically uncomfortable I've ever been in my adult life."

Asked what he remembered about the chaos that ensued after the Avalanche won in 1996 and then again in 2001, Pazen had little to offer beyond some platitudes about the DPD being a "learning organization."

"We certainly remember past events," he said, "and we will continue to work to try to ensure the safety of our community as we bring home the Cup."

Go, Avs!
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.