Fans pack Tap House to cheer on favorite teams

— Peter and Mike Woolverton predicted the Avalanche would win. One thought the score would be 3-2. The other thought it would be 3-1. They are Avs fans. What can you expect? Before they left the Tap House Friday night, they wanted to take their predictions and toss them in the garbage with the leftover hot wings.

Chances are, nobody, not even Detroit fans, thought Game 7 would be a rout.

But the Red Wings' 7-0 win left Colorado fans little choice but to laugh it off because that's all goalie Patrick Roy could do when he was pulled in the second period in arguably his worst playoff showing in history.

Leading up to this game between the biggest hockey rivals over the past 10 years, shots were taken from both corners. Red Wings fans rallied behind the home-ice advantage and the fat load of All-Stars on their roster. Avalanche fans fought back, citing the re-emergence of Peter Forsberg and the dominance of Roy.

After Friday's game, the advantage clearly goes to the tossers of octopi.

During the NHL playoffs, fans in Steamboat Springs have elected to gather in mass numbers at the Tap House downtown. With 35 televisions and three 100-inch screens, it provides every customer with a great view of the action.

Friday night, Joe Sakic and Darren McCarty sat at the same table and shared glasses of water and beer, while rooting their respective teams to defeat and triumphant victory. Neither Randy Pruitt nor Gene Humphrey, dressed as their favorite players, expected a score that resembled a close football game.

"It should have been a one or two goal game. It's Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals," Humphrey said clad in his McCarty jersey.

Humphrey, born and raised in Detroit, said there's no chance he might become an Avs fans because he is loyal to his hometown and hates expansion, preferring the old NHL to the new-look one. Because he is now a Steamboat resident, he picks the Tap House as the place to catch his Red Wings.

"It's the only true sports bar in town," he said. "You get a mix of both teams."

Co-owner Gary Saxe estimated his patrons during the series to be about 20 percent Detroit fans to nearly 80 percent Colorado fans. An avid Broncos fan, since taking over the bar nearly four years ago, Saxe has grown to love hockey and the Avalanche, particularly what it does for business.

While on vacation, Saxe decided to make a Tap House appearance and was lured into seating the numbers of patrons that started showing up at about 4:15 p.m. nearly 45 minutes before the game and 15 minutes before the waitresses.

The atmosphere, mixed with its drink specials, makes the downtown sports bar and grill an enticing place to gather for groups of all sizes and ages. The restaurant area is nonsmoking and the prices are "family friendly," Saxe said.

The food is good as well, said several fans, which proved to be a welcome thing because all the hype before Game 7 was eliminated in the second period when Detroit extended its lead to 6-0.

Still, Saxe found it tough to complain because Colorado has served him well in the slowest part of the year mud season.

"Ski season is winding down and the summer season is warming up," he said. "It's transition time. The Avs have been very good to us."

The popularity of hockey in Steamboat should be of little surprise, and a winning team housed less than three hours away fuels the fire. The lure of outsiders to the town also pulls in transient fans; in this case, they happen to be Red Wings' supporters.

Humphrey said he would continue to watch the Stanley Cup Finals at the Tap House, which will continue to run its drink specials through the remainder of the playoffs. He might be one of the 10 people to show up and cheer on the Red Wings, but that's fine with him even if the best series is over.

"They have the best wings in town," he said.

And the most avid Wings fans to boot.

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