Updated on 09/16/2011 8:22AM

Avalanche, Kings in annual NHL preview


This week has been unseasonably cold (lows in the 50's) here in Las Vegas, but it kind of seems appropriate with the NHL season starting next week.

Maybe the cooling trend can be attributed to the MGM Grand trying to get an ice rink ready for Saturday night's sixth annual "Frozen Fury" NHL exhibition game between the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings. This game gives the locals a chance to check out two quality teams with the season about to start. The Avalanche, who have won two titles in the past five years, are the 5-1 second choice to win the Stanley Cup, according to odds by Las Vegas Sports Consultants.

The defending champion Detroit Red Wings opened as the 4-1 favorite this past spring and have been bet down to 7-2. Other top contenders include the St. Louis Blues and Philadelphia Flyers (both at 8-1), and the New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs (all at 10-1).

The Kings are in the middle of the pack at 20-1, but even though there are a lot of transplanted Los Angelinos in the Las Vegas area, the Avalanche are the marquee attraction.

Colorado, loaded on offense and solid in goal with Patrick Roy, improved its defense earlier this week with the acquisition of Derek Morris from the Calgary Flames. The Avalanche need defense if they're going to challenge the Red Wings in the Western Conference. They might, however, have mortgaged their future by dealing forwards Chris Drury and Stephane Yelle.

Gametime is 7:30 p.m. in the Grand Garden Arena. Tickets range from $20 for the Bob Uecker seats to $150 in the front row.

Oktoberfest of sports

The NHL game isn't the only exciting game coming to town this month for sports and horse racing fans.

* The PGA Tour makes its annual stop in Las Vegas next Wednesday through Sunday with a pro-am on Wednesday and the Invensys Classic the rest of the week taking place at the TPC at Summerlin. Tickets start at $15 for daily passes, with free admission for active military personnel and Culinary Union employees.

* In most golf tournaments, the fans cheer for the players to earn all the money, but at the Championship at The Orleans handicapping tournament the spectators are also the players, as they'll be trying to win their share of the $400,000 purse (based on 700 entrants). This fall's tournament runs next Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 10-12. Entrants who put up their $500 entry fee by the Sept. 18 early-bird deadline will also take part in a free $20,000 contest on Sunday, Oct. 13.

* Speaking of early-bird deadlines, those planning to play in the Pick the Ponies tournament at the Las Vegas Hilton on Oct. 23-25 can save $100 by signing up by Oct. 14. The early-bird entry fee is $400, and then it rises to $500.

* The biggest sporting event this month in Las Vegas (even though it's actually held at Arlington Park in suburban Chicago) is the Breeders' Cup on Oct. 26. The race and sports books will be packed, especially with a full slate of football games that weekend. This is the one of the highest non-holiday hotel occupancy weekends of the year, so make your reservations soon if you want to join the party.

Contest gets celebrity treatment

There's another big event taking place this Friday night, though it's of more local interest. Jerry Tarkanian, the towel-munching coach who led UNLV basketball to national prominence and the 1990 NCAA title, will be trying to pick football winners Friday night in the Stardust Invitational, a 16-player event that includes handicappers, industry professionals, and celebrities in a $10,000 single-elimination, winner-take-all tournament.

Tark the Shark is still a Vegas icon, even though he left UNLV amid scandal in 1992. The NCAA investigated the UNLV program mercilessly without ever hitting Tarkanian with a major violation. Eventually, Tarkanian sued the NCAA for violating his constitutional rights and was given a $2.5 million out-of-court settlement.

Tark the Shark's opponent is also well-known. He's Rudy Ruettiger, whose dream was to play football for Notre Dame. He did, and his story was told in the 1993 movie "Rudy." He's now a motivational speaker living in Las Vegas.

It will be interesting to see if Ruettiger uses the Stanford-Notre Dame game or Tarkanian uses the UNLV or Fresno St. games among their seven contest selections against the spread. The one-hour show takes place at 9 p.m. Friday in the Stardust sports book and is broadcast live on KDWN AM-720.

Last week, Andy Iskoe went 4-3 to defeat Ted Svransky (3-4) to join previous winners "Papa" Joe Chevalier and Lance Zierlein in advancing to the second round

Name game

Phil Laurino and Robert Burns have the distinction of being the hottest handicappers in town. They are tied for first place in both the SuperContest at the Las Vegas Hilton and the Gambler's Challenge at the Station Casinos properties. They are 16-4 in both contests. Another thing they have in common is they are apparently the only ones using their given names instead of aliases.

Joining them atop the SuperContest standings are contestants going under the names Buccaneer Mike, Mywinners.com, Hollywood Al, and I Don't Know. The third co-leader in the Gambler's Challenge uses the moniker MRO. This weekend's selections from the leaders in both contests will be available in the respective sports books on Friday afternoon.