CHICAGO – It was a long, hot wait for 2 million fans Friday as they counted down the minutes to the Blackhawks’ victory parade.
Many endured the heat for hours so they could guarantee themselves a spot along the barricades. But as the players rode by while hoisting the Stanley Cup, the wait soon was forgotten.
“Phenomenal” was all Janet LeBlanc could muster after the double-decker buses filled with players rode by and ticker tape filled the sky.
Jordan Jensen, 23, of Island Lake expressed a similar sentiment.
“The Cup changes everything,” he said. “It was beyond words. It was epic.”
Courtney Galassini, 18, of Lake Forest is a longtime hockey fan who was glad to see the Stanley Cup back in Chicago for the first time in 49 years.
“The parade was insane,” she said. “The crowd and just the whole atmosphere united the city.”
The parade culminated with a celebration rally at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive. Hawks fans stood shoulder-to-shoulder in every direction, with some climbing atop bus stops and newspaper boxes for better vantage points.
Those who could not see the stage still were able to scream.
Fans roared during Jim Cornelison’s rendition of the national anthem, and they screamed again as six planes soared in formation over the Chicago River. Several fans hoisted makeshift Stanley Cups made of aluminum foil, while others tied Hawks flags to the ends of wooden hockey sticks and waved them from side to side.
“We got the Cup!” the crowd chanted as they waited for the team to take the stage.
“It was chaotic,” said Richard Ostrowski, 23, of Island Lake. “It was something you don’t envision yourself being at. But we were there.”
Hawks broadcaster Ed Olczyk emceed the ceremony, introducing past greats such as Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito before turning to this year’s team.
Hawks forward Dustin Byfuglien strode onto the stage wearing sunglasses and the team’s heavyweight wrestling belt draped over his shoulder. He later presented the belt to Patrick Kane, who scored the game-winning goal that clinched the championship.
Hawks captain Jonathan Toews, who was the last player to be introduced, hoisted the Cup above his head as he walked to the stage. The team’s 22-year-old leader looked out in wonder at a sea of red-clad Hawks’ fans who chanted “MVP! MVP!” before he spoke.
“Unbelievable,” Toews mouthed, shaking his head. “You guys are absolutely amazing. You make this special for us.”
The crowds were relatively calm as police monitored them during the event. However, there were some issues – a number of people appeared to be treated for fainting, and a group of guys behind LeBlanc’s family were among those arrested for public drunkenness.
Galassini said she thought that, overall, the fans were great.
“It’s such a good fan base,” she said. “Unlike the Cubs and the Sox, there’s one team for Chicago hockey.”
Brent Vuglar, a 17-year-old Crystal Lake resident, went downtown for the event with his family, who all are big hockey fans.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said Friday morning as they waited to board the 7:23 a.m. Metra train in Woodstock.
LeBlanc’s family also took the Metra downtown, and the train they rode in on was so crowded that at the Fox River Grove station, the conductor announced there would be no more stops.
All the aisles were packed with Hawks fans.
“It’s nice to see the city take it on and support it,” LeBlanc said. “They’ve just become huge hockey fans in general.”
• Northwest Herald reporter Tom Musick contributed to this report