CHICAGO (AP) — Showered with confetti and cheered by screaming fans, the Blackhawks wound their way through downtown Chicago on open-topped buses Friday to celebrate the team's stunning Stanley Cup victory.
Thousands of fans who ditched work and painted their faces red and black roared I appreciation as the buses paraded past carrying waving players in red jerseys. Captain Jonathan Toews triumphantly hoisted the silver trophy over his head.
Crowds had jammed entrances to the rally site at Grant Park next to Lake Michigan since before dawn while some die-hard fans camped out there over night, ready to sprint to the big stage at the front of the park the minute police swung barriers aside. By the time buses delivered the players and their families, the park was packed.
Supporters along the parade route waved signs reading, "Thank you, guys" and, "Best 17 seconds of my life" — referring to the pair of goals scored just seconds apart in the final minutes of the Hawks' 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins on Monday night.
Some fans hauled homemade versions of the Stanley Cup, including one fashioned from an empty beer keg. Twenty-somethings Courtney Baldwin and Meghan O'Kane, from the city's suburbs, slapped together their tribute to the trophy from a jumble of jugs and plastic bowls painted grey. Early in the morning, it was not yet full of frothy beverage.
"It will be this afternoon," Baldwin said.
One fan who dashed to the front of the park to get a spot near the stage was Michael Wilczynski, a 26-year-old sales associate from the suburbs. His father took him to his first game and they partied together downtown during the 2010 victory.
"My dad died in February. We came to 2010. I'm not going to miss this. I had to be here," he said.
The Blackhawks gave the city something to celebrate as the Cubs and White Sox grind through another lost summer and after the Bears failed to make the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
And fans took note.
"We love the Blackhawks. This is history and this is a championship, unlike the Cubs," O'Kane said, taking a shot at a team that hasn't won a World Series since 1908. It was the second time the Blackhawks have brought the Stanley Cup home in three years.
This season's victory was dramatic. Trailing Boston until the final minutes, Chicago scored twice in 17 seconds. Delirious fans bolted from bars to celebrate in the streets. Car horns blared.
The party roared overnight and into the next day as the team returned from Boston and, making good on an NHL tradition, toted the Cup around bars and restaurants to the delight of onlookers and fans who tried to keep up.
Sarah Schmidt, 22, who grew up in Chicago and made the pilgrimage to Friday's celebrations from Milwaukee, telling her boss she was taking the day off no matter what — and hoping she would still have her bar tending job when the party was over.
"I can't miss this," she said.