DENVER (AP)—Two fans in orange prison jumpsuits and a few more sitting behind a set of homemade cardboard jail bars could mean only one thing.
It was Todd Bertuzzi Night in Denver.
Milan Hejduk scored his 200th career goal Thursday to help Colorado to a 6-2 win over Vancouver and Bertuzzi, who was booed all night in his first game in Denver since breaking Avalanche forward Steve Moore’s neck.
“It is what it is,” Bertuzzi said, time and again when asked for his thoughts on the evening.
Pierre Turgeon scored twice for the Avalanche to reach 499 for his career, as Colorado snapped the Canucks’ six-game winning streak in the first of two straight games between the Northwest Division rivals in Denver. The rematch is Saturday.
Bertuzzi, a pariah in Denver for the cheap shot he delivered on Moore in a game late in the 2003-04 season, incurred the kind of wrath this city’s sports fans normally save up for the Detroit Red Wings and Oakland Raiders.
Now, the Canucks are on the short list, too.
The fans in prison jumpers with Bertuzzi’s No. 44 on them greeted the Vancouver forward during warmups and heckled him through the glass. A few others wore fake neck braces to show support for Moore. Next to them were a group of fans wearing horizontal-striped uniforms and sitting behind faux jail bars and a sign that said they were dressing up like Bertuzzi for Halloween.
“I don’t know if the reaction played a large role in the outcome,” Canucks center Trevor Linden said. “We knew it was going to be like this. It was no secret.”
One ugly moment, caught on TV, came when a fan dumped a beer on a woman in the stands wearing a Bertuzzi uniform.
The most telling sequence, though, came 2:37 into the first period when the Canucks, having just allowed the first goal to Joe Sakic, thought they’d sneak Bertuzzi into the game for the first time.
While the Avalanche celebrated and “Rock and Roll, Part II,” blared through the sound system, Bertuzzi climbed over the wall onto the ice. Suddenly, the festivities were drowned out by loud, full-throated booing from a crowd that hasn’t forgotten what Bertuzzi did to Moore 19 months ago in Vancouver.
The booing continued steadily all night—every time Bertuzzi came onto the ice, every time he came close to the puck and especially when he got an assist on a third-period goal by Ryan Kesler. With the clock running down, the fans filled the arena with an obscene chant about Bertuzzi. Only when he was knocked down by Ossi Vaananen, then later hammered into the wall by Rob Blake, did Bertuzzi’s presence on the ice garner cheers.
“It is what it is,” Bertuzzi said.
Among the most relieved players was Avs defenseman Brad May.
May was with the Canucks in 2004 and suggested—jokingly, he said—there should be a bounty put on Moore’s head in the leadup to the game in which Bertuzzi cheap-shotted Moore. In the offseason, May was signed by Colorado, to the chagrin of many Avs fans.
“Hey, we play professional sports. There’s so much emotion,” May said. “This was a great place to be tonight as an athlete. Booing. Cheering. Sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s great. It was just good to get a win.”
Moore, meanwhile, is unsigned and still rehabilitating the broken neck he received as retribution for a shot he took on Canucks forward Markus Naslund. It is not known if Moore will be well enough to resume his career.
Many Avalanche fans feel Bertuzzi should have received worse than the 13-game suspension (plus playoffs) he got from the NHL and the probation and community service meted out to him by the legal system in British Columbia.
What they got Thursday night was still satisfying, though—a blowout of the division leaders and a win the Avalanche, who came in already eight points behind Vancouver, felt they desperately needed.
“We could see the fans were into it,” Turgeon said. “It’s just a solid game and a big two points and that’s the bottom line.”
The Avalanche went ahead 3-1 after 12 1/2 minutes behind goals from Sakic, Steve Konowalchuk and Ian Laperriere. The first goal by Turgeon, at 3:44 of the second, made it 4-1 and marked the end for Canucks starting goalie Dan Cloutier.
Colorado’s David Aebischer made 40 saves, including 22 during a third period in which the Canucks outshot Colorado by an embarrassing 23-0. It barely mattered, though, because the Avs were nursing a 6-1 lead after two periods.
“We’ve prided ourselves with being prepared for each challenge that we face,” Canucks coach Marc Crawford said. “We didn’t do that.”
As the margin grew in the second, the only question left was whether a fight would break out, possibly to hash out any leftover issues from the Moore-Bertuzzi affair.
But there were no big scraps and the game ended without a major incident, much the same as Vancouver’s 6-4 win over Colorado last Saturday in Canada.
The teams take a day off, then conclude their long week together with another game, where more boos will probably be awaiting.
“It is what it is,” Bertuzzi said.
Hejduk scored his 24th goal against Vancouver in 34 career games. … Crawford fell to 10-16-4 in the regular season against the team he led to the 1996 Stanley Cup.