As the Colorado Avalanche get ready for the Stanley Cup Final, fans old and new step in to keep tradition alive

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Blues Avalanche Hockey
Jack Dempsey/AP
Troy Swiers poses for a photo with mascot Bernie before Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series between the Colorado Avalanche and the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, May 17, 2022, in Denver.

Stephanie Folk was once just a fun-lovin’ college kid stuffing her face full of octopus tentacles.

She did it as part of a radio station giveaway for tickets to see the Colorado Avalanche face their archrivals, the Detroit Red Wings, in the 2002 Stanley Cup playoffs. You see, it’s long-been a tradition for Red Wings fans to throw dead octopuses on the ice during playoff games, so the whole octopus theme here actually isn't all that bizarre – OK, well, maybe it still is.

But it's one thing to throw an octopus. It’s a whole other experience having one in your mouth for several hours.

“The contest was to hold an octopus tentacle in your mouth for as long as you could,” recalled Folk, who grew up in Arvada, but now lives out in Haxtun, on Colorado’s Eastern Plains. 

Every so often, “we would get a break and get to take [the tentacle] out of our mouth .… So, we’d have a quick smoke and go, ‘OK, here we go,’ and drink some water and chug it down, then go back over and put it back inside our mouth. We got really good at moving around with it in our mouth.”

Hey, who among us hasn’t chewed octopus for hours to prove how much we love our team, am I right?

The point is, Folk is a BIG Avs fan  — she got into that 2001 playoff game, by the way. And she’s been cheering on her team ever since the Avs — formerly known as the Quebec Nordiques — moved to Denver from Canada in 1995. That same season, the Avs won their first Stanley Cup, becoming the first major professional Denver sports team to win a championship. 

Fast forward to now. As the current Avs team gets set to play in their first Stanley Cup Final in 21 years, longtime fans are hoping for a replay of some of the same magic that brought the Cup home to Denver in 1996 and again five years later. Count Folk — who attended an Avs watch party at the old McNichols Arena the night they beat the Florida Panthers in triple overtime to win the Cup in ‘96 — as one of those fans. 

“The entire place exploded,” Folk said of McNichols on June 10, 1996. “I don’t think I have ever — and I’ve been to concerts at McNichols. I’ve been to concerts at Pepsi Center. I’ve been to different Avs games — I don’t remember a place being that loud.”

While thousands of fans were partying inside McNichols that night, Amy Ware of Highlands Ranch had a much quieter playoff experience, seeing as how she was pregnant.

“You don’t get to jump up and down and cheer as much as you want,” she said. “It’s not physically possible.”

Ware gave birth during the Avs’ first round series against Vancouver. The next round was a blur.

Colorado Avalanche Stanley Cup team
Jack Dempsey/AP
Members of the 1996 Colorado Avalanche Stanley Cup team reunite for their 15th anniversary before the start of an NHL hockey game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Colorado Avalanche Thursday, Oct. 7, 2010, in Denver.

“So many of those games went into overtime,” said Ware, who nailed it. The second round series against the Chicago Blackhawks alone had four overtime games, including one that went into double OT and another triple overtime affair!

But not even all those intense, bite-every-fingernail-off-your-hands overtime games could keep an exhausted mom with a newborn baby alert.

“He would just sit on the sofa in his bouncy seat with my husband and I watching, and I fell asleep half the time and something exciting would happen and I would wake up,” Ware said with a laugh.

While Ware was nodding off, the city of Denver was just starting to come alive. The same year the Avs moved to the Mile High City, 1995, Coors Field opened in Lower Downtown.

“We saw all the restaurants, and the livelihood of the city —we had that neo-industrial look combined with the historic red brick of the Old West, and it really leant a vibrancy to the city that we had never seen before,” said Deborah Méndez Wilson, who was a reporter for the Associated Press back in those days. “It was certainly an exciting time not just for sports fans, but just for everybody who had just been waiting for Denver to really come into its own as a big American city, right?”

Méndez Wilson says fans already knew the famed Blake Street Bombers from the Colorado Rockies. Then along come these hockey guys …

“First we had, you know, [Andrés] Galarraga and [Vinny] Castilla and all those fellows who became household names,” she said, referring to the home-run hitting Rockies sluggers from that era. “And then suddenly now we have Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic, people we were not familiar with, but who shortly thereafter we became very familiar with.

And after winning the hearts of Colorado sports fans in ‘96, the Avs, led by Sakic and NHL legend Ray Borque, won their second Stanley Cup in 2001.

They haven’t been to the Final since. But now, 21 years later, fans are cheering on a new generation of Avs players, like Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar. And as the Avs drive toward a third championship, they’re turning casual hockey fans into fierce ones.

“In my house, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Cale Makar, those are just household names that we know now, that we might not have known a couple of years ago,” said Daniel Wilson, Deborah’s 24-year-old son. “I think this is the best time to learn about hockey if you're a Colorado sports fan.”

“To learn a new sport, for me on my end, it's been absolutely incredible, especially when I get to do it with my family. Because my mom and dad already got to have that experience and I feel like they're getting a little bit of that nostalgia element in their lives a little bit, which I think is really cool to see.”

This week’s Stanley Cup final, which will be another best-of-seven games affair, is sure to be an intense battle. But if there's such a thing as a good luck charm, the Avs do have Amy Ware. You see, after giving birth during the Avs first championship season, Ware had another child during the 2001 playoffs, when the Avs won their second Stanley Cup.

And this year, she got a new puppy.

“My youngest said, ‘Well, mom and dad, you got the new puppy this year so that counts as another baby,” Ware said. “So that’s why they're in the Stanley Cup!’”

This story has been updated to correct several words in quotations.

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