DENVER (AP) – The fans were buzzing about an exciting win as they walked up the stairs to the concourse that would take them to the parking lot.

With the excitement of Colorado’s 5-3 victory over Edmonton still in the air on Tuesday night, the public-address announcer had one last bit of housecleaning to take care of: “Join us Thursday night, when the Avalanche takes on the Vancouver Canucks,” he said.

Boos came thundering down from what was left of the happy crowd. Todd Bertuzzi and the Canucks are Public Enemy No. 1 in this hockey-loving town and they’re coming in for not one, but two games in three nights beginning Thursday.

“I will be vocal. I will be heard,” Avalanche season-ticket holder Bruce Peterson said. “Avalanche fans have taken it pretty personal.”

This will be Bertuzzi’s first appearance in Denver since the game March 8, 2004 in Vancouver in which he hit Avalanche forward Steve Moore from behind, slamming him to the ice and breaking his neck.

A lot has happened since one of the most unseemly episodes in NHL history:

• Bertuzzi missed the final 13 games of the season and the playoffs, but after everyone missed all of last season because of NHL labor strife, he was reinstated.

• He was sentenced to one year of probation and 80 hours of community service after pleading guilty to assault causing bodily harm for the blindside punch to Moore’s head. Meanwhile, a civil suit Moore filed against Bertuzzi in Denver court was recently thrown out, with the judge saying the case should be heard in Canada.

• Moore hasn’t played but has been rehabbing. A free agent, the Avalanche have been lukewarm about his return, saying they’ll welcome him back only when his doctors clear him to play.

• The Avalanche, meanwhile, signed former Canucks defenseman Brad May, who – jokingly, he says – suggested in the leadup to the Bertuzzi-Moore game that there be a bounty put on Moore’s head. Moore had knocked out Markus Naslund of the Canucks in a previous game. Since his arrival in Denver, May has heard his own share of boos.

“It’s hard for fans to adjust to Brad May being here,” Peterson said.

As for the players and coaches, they’ve downplayed the history and claim they only want to get on with hockey. The Avalanche and Canucks played Saturday in Vancouver, and the game went off without incident.

“I could have played a couple more periods,” was Bertuzzi’s response when asked if he was glad the first game was over.

He’ll get his chance for more in Denver, where he’s sure to be greeted coldly. Avalanche fans used to save their worst for the Detroit Red Wings. Bertuzzi and the Canucks have supplanted the Red Wings, though, as the team and player Avs fans most love to hate.

“I’ve been coming to hockey games since there were minor league games here. I never saw anything like that,” said Mike Scanrett, who was sitting at the game in Vancouver when Bertuzzi landed his cheap shot. “I was sitting in the 14th row, right in front of the incident. I was angry then and I’m just as angry now knowing he’s coming to town.”

It figures to be a long week for Bertuzzi. In a rare scheduling move, the NHL called for Vancouver to play two straight games in Denver, meaning the Canucks and Bertuzzi will be in town for the better part of four days.

“I think incidents like this take the sport backwards,” said Roger Keese of Denver. “Bertuzzi is a thug and he should be treated like one. He was allowed to come back too soon.”

He says he’ll boo Bertuzzi every time he steps on the ice.

It figures he won’t be alone.

“I thought they brought him back too soon,” said Troy Smith of Arvada. “What were they thinking? I’ll boo him if the people around me boo him.”

Associated Press freelance writer Dale Bublitz contributed to this report.

AP-ES-10-26-05 1539EDT

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