Police in riot gear sprayed tear gas to disperse thousands of rowdy fans who set small bonfires and danced in the streets to celebrate the Colorado Avalanche’s first Stanley Cup championship in five years. Crowds spilled into the area from the Pepsi Center, where the Avalanche defeated the New Jersey Devils, and from Coors Field, where the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Colorado Rockies. They lighted bonfires and firecrackers, climbed street poles and hugged each other. “We’re No. 1,” fans chanted. Several people were arrested as nearly 700 officers, on foot and horseback, worked to maintain control. There were reports of broken storefront windows, police spokeswoman Virginia Lopez said. Andrew Hudson, a spokesman for Mayor Wellington Webb, said he thought the crowd was celebratory, but not as violent as in years past. Near Coors Field, fans blocked streets and jumped on vehicles trying to leave the area. A few fans carrying hockey sticks leaped back and forth across a bonfire in the middle of one street. Several blocks away, one fan waved an Avalanche flag from a perch atop a street light pole. Motorists honked horns and a few bottles were tossed toward police. Police officers stood side by side in a line across the street and set off tear gas canisters after ordering people to leave the area. “Nothing was being destroyed. Everybody is out on a peaceful celebration and they started firing smoke,” said Ryan Fornese, 23, of Denver. “I ran and I thought I was going to die as soon as I hit that cloud of smoke.” Carey Jenkins and his girlfriend, Wendy Weidner, watched the game at home and came downtown to celebrate. “It’s not quite the same jumping up and down at home,” Weidner said. “We thought we’d get a beer and celebrate with the fans,” Jenkins said. “I think the players on the Avalanche wanted to win it for (Ray) Bourque,” Scott Davis said. “They just wanted to win it more.” During the game, fans crowded outside sports bars packed to capacity. “The vibes, man, this is where it all is,” said Amy Fechenbach, who stood outside a sports bar. “I grew up watching Ray Bourque play hockey and it’s high time that he finally won the cup,” said Jim Devon, a computer analyst who lived in Boston when Bourque played for the Bruins. Ray Bourque, 40, won his first Stanley Cup trophy Saturday after a career lasting over 20 years. Police used video cameras to record the actions of unruly celebrants that could be reviewed later for evidence of criminal activity. Army surplus stores reported brisk sales of gas masks as journalists, security guards and fans prepared for the possibility of raucous celebrations following Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. By noon Friday, the Army and Navy Surplus Store had sold out of US$7.99 gas masks.
Two surplus stores near downtown Denver also were busy before the game. In 1996, police used Mace to subdue crowds after the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup by beating Florida on the road. Tear gas and pepper spray were used again in 1998 and 1999 when fans set trash cans on fire and tipped parked cars after the Denver Broncos won consecutive Super Bowls.