IT’S HOCKEY NIGHT IN THE MOUNTAINS

FRISCO, Colo. — Chris Drury faked out Jiri Fischer, faked out Dominik Hasek, shot the puck, won the game . . . and everyone in the place went crazy!

If that sounds backwards for a Detroit writer, that’s because I was not at Joe Louis Arena, where the Red Wings and Avalanche were actually playing. I was far away, among a crowd of fleece-shirted, semi-bearded, Coors-guzzling “fans” in Colorado.

Call it an experiment. I know the vibe in Hockeytown. I wanted to see it in mountain town.

“That OK?” I asked one of my bosses.

“Don’t get in any fights,” he said.

So I headed for the mountains — not Denver, too cosmopolitan — the real mountains, a ski town called Frisco and a bar called Barkley’s, from which you can see snow-capped peaks and endless green fir trees. You know. Like the back entrance of Joe Louis.

I was told this place “gets nuts” for the Avalanche. But when I arrived, the only nuts were in bowls.

Good news: plenty of seats. Bad news: disco ball on ceiling.

Good news: huge projection screen tuned to ESPN. Bad news: the sound was off.

“How come you’re the only people in here with Avalanche shirts?” I asked two women at the bar, who said their names were Shelby and Sandy.

“Because Avs fans are the lamest fans in the world!” Shelby said.

Hey. That’s one of them talking.

I told them in Detroit, on hockey nights, a place like this would be packed with Red Wings jerseys. Also, they’d have the sound on.

“People up here think they’re too cool to wear logos,” Shelby said.

“Unless they’re ski logos,” Sandy said.

“Besides,” Shelby said, looking around at the languid crowd, “I think most of the people in here are stoned.”

The boys from the UP

Now, I will say, as the game progressed, the crowd grew in size and noise, especially once they turned the sound on. But when Boyd Devereaux put a puck past Patrick Roy to tie the game, I heard a distinct “Yeah!” from the back.

Hmm.

I wandered over. “Did I hear a Red Wings fan here?” I asked.

One woman popped up. “I’m a Red Wings fan,” she said. “I used to live in Michigan. Now I live here.”

Why the move?

“I wanted to be a ski bum.”

How’s it working out?

“I’m succeeding.”

Then, from the back corner, an entire whooping chorus of Wings shouts. Turns out five more of the patrons in this Colorado sports bar were from Michigan. Marquette, to be exact. Students, 21-year-olds, with baseball caps, flannel shirts, lots of pizza, lots of beer, and, from what I gathered, one hotel room.

“We love the Wings!” one of them said.

“We’re here to fish!” said another.

“And chase women, eh?” said another.

Which is working out better, I asked?

“Oh, the women, for sure. We haven’t gone fishing yet.”

For the record — actually, for their folks back home — here are their names: Brock, Jordan, Jon, Jason, Travis.

Moms and dads, don’t worry. They’ll be home by 2005.

The thrilling finish

Now, while all this was well and good if you’re writing a book on happy hour, it was decidedly devoid of hockey atmosphere. If you went to a sports bar anywhere in Michigan, they’d know their hockey, and on game night, they’d be wild.

Here? Mostly polite watching. Then again, they’ve had this hockey team for less than a decade.

Oh, sure, when Roy foolishly came out of the net to play the puck and Kirk Maltby made him pay with a goal, one fan yelled, “What’s the matter with him?”

Goalies. Same everywhere.

And whenever Joe Sakic or Peter Forsberg had the puck, you heard a buzz. When the Avs scored to pull ahead — and finally, to win — the place did go nuts. As for the Wings fans? Last I looked, the boys from Marquette had landed a few catches, the kind without gills. So at least somebody from Michigan had a decent night.

But to sum it up, while it may not be hockey heaven, I probably had a better time in the mountains than the Wings did back home. The people here are plenty friendly, and most of them told me they think the Wings are a phenomenal team that is likely to beat the Avs.

Then again, they might have been stoned.

“I still don’t understand,” I told a guy named Seth, “why this place isn’t packed.”

“It would be,” he said, “if this were a World Cup ski race.”

Oh.

A what?

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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