I remember the good old days, when Denver was a place your plane stopped on the way to the West Coast?

“Hey, nice mountains you got here,” you’d say to some cowboy-hatted local who was hanging around the airport.

And he’d pause for a minute, spit some tobacco and say, “Yep.”

Then you’d get back on the plane and go someplace else.

Back then, the city had only one big sports franchise, a football team, the Broncos. They wore orange uniforms and were lucky if they won four games a season. Five victories, they held a parade.

Nobody cared. Denver was a place you went for skiing. It was a place you went for boots and a saddle.

It was not some hotbed of sports hysteria, with merchandising shops full of teal uniforms. It was not a place you went for hockey. In fact, until last year, Denver was where you went to get away from hockey.

And now — look at this mess. In one year, Denver has a Stanley Cup. Its players have made mortal enemies out of the Red Wings. Its newspaper columnists take swipes at Detroit.

And tonight, the Western Conference finals begin again in a town that, until five minutes ago, thought Zamboni was an Italian ice cream.

Everything is upside down. Nothing means what it used to mean. You know what I mean?

Let me define the definitions:

ROY

* THEN: A cowboy name, as in Roy Rogers.

* NOW: A goalie whose spelling should be “WAH.”

QUEBEC

* THEN: A province in Canada.

* NOW: The Avalanche’s dirty little secret.

RODENT

* THEN: A nibbling mammal, such as a rat.

* NOW: Claude Lemieux.

OCTOPUS

* THEN: Sold-out fish during hockey season.

* NOW: $6.99 a pound, plenty available.

GLOVES

* THEN: What you wear to keep warm.

* NOW: The first thing that comes off in a fight.

SWEATER

* THEN: What you wear to keep warm.

* NOW: What you pull over the opponent’s head before you start beating on it.

HELMET

* THEN: What you wear to protect your brain.

* NOW: Where you want his fist to land.

REFEREE

* THEN: Man who enforces rules.

* NOW: Man who stands by fight and counts to 1,000.

BOWL

* THEN: Round dish or basin, used for holding food.

* NOW: How Marc Crawford gets his hair cut.

SHOTS ON GOAL

* THEN: Method for counting scoring chances.

* NOW: 60 for Wings, 20 for opponent.

CREASE

* THEN: Ridge or groove, produced by folding.

* NOW: What you’d like to put in the face of the dummy who invented this rule.

METHUSELAH

* THEN: Aged Biblical patriarch.

* NOW: Slava Fetisov.

BLOOD

* THEN: The plasma fluid in the vascular system.

* NOW: A standing ovation.

GOALIE

* THEN: The man who protects the hockey net.

* NOW: The man who skates to center ice to attack the other goalie in a comical wrestling match.

ENIGMA

* THEN: A puzzling situation that leaves you confused.

* NOW: Scotty Bowman.

You get the idea? Meanings change. Cities change.

But some things stay the same.

So this morning, I will fly to Denver, and when I land, I will encounter some cowboy-hatted local who will ask me this question: “You don’t really think your Wings can beat our Avalanche, do you?”

And I’ll pause, spit some tobacco and say . . .

“Blecchh, this stuff is awful!”

And the answer is yes.

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