BOSTON -- Screaming fans dressed in the black and gold of the Boston Bruins smiled, waved and stood on trees and bus shelters as they watched the NHL champions -- and the Stanley Cup, of course -- roll through city streets on a balmy, breezy day.
And the players they adore gave it right back.
|Bruins captain Zdeno Chara hoists the Cup, the franchise's first since 1972. (AP)|
"Let's Go Bruins," the fans responded. "Let's Go Bruins."
But there's no need for the Bruins to go any further. They've already arrived.
The long journey began in Vermont in late September with two days of training camp and ended in Vancouver with a 4-0 win last Wednesday in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
In between, the Bruins started the season with two games in Prague and grew into a team determined enough to win three of its four postseason series in seven games and good enough to knock off the Canucks, the NHL's best team in the regular season.
The Bruins also had help from their fans, who stuck by them all the way to Saturday's celebration on a sunny day with temperatures in the low 80s. Crowds were so deep on the sidewalks that many fans might not have been able to see the players.
But in a 15-minute program outside the TD Garden before the rally, playoff MVP Thomas briefly spoke to the fans, holding the Cup aloft the whole time.
"You guys wanted it. We got it and we want to share it with you today," said the goalie, one of the few Bruins still sporting a playoff beard. "Let's have some fun."
Then players and team officials boarded 18 colorful duck boats, tourist vehicles designed to travel on land and water. This day, they carried passengers who excelled on ice.
"We all love each other," said first-line forward Nathan Horton, sidelined for the series with a severe concussion early in Game 3. "We all care about each other. We all play for each other. That's the way it's been all year and that's why we won the Cup."
|More on Bruins parade|
About 20 minutes into the trip to Copley Square, a route of about three miles from the arena where the Bruins were 3-0 against the Canucks in the finals, Thomas said, "It's awesome to be sharing it with everybody. This is the day you really look forward to."
He and team captain Chara took turns raising the Cup in the first vehicle. Then security personnel took it from one slow-moving duck boat after another so all the players had a chance to hold it. Chara even climbed down to the street so fans could touch it.
The rally is becoming a familiar sight in the city that is home to seven champions in 10 seasons -- three for the New England Patriots, two for the Red Sox and one each for the Celtics and Bruins.
While Boston police no longer provide estimates, the size of the crowd appeared to be larger than all but the one that turned out to celebrate the Red Sox first championship in 86 years in 2004. The event appeared to be peaceful as fans stayed behind barricades.
Claude Julien, the unassuming coach of the newest winners, thanked coaches Bill Belichick of the Patriots and Doc Rivers of the Celtics and manager Terry Francona of the Red Sox for the support they gave even before he joined their championship group.
And now, he said before the duck boats started rolling, "You really feel like you belong. So, thanks to them."
The crowd even cheered for Jeremy Jacobs, the Buffalo, N.Y.-based owner stigmatized for years with a stingy reputation that may or may not have been deserved.
"I just want to say, 'Lord Stanley, 39 years, welcome home,"' he told fans from a stage set up in the large parking lot beside the Garden. "The wait is over. The Cup is yours. Let's celebrate."
Fans began lining the route hours before the rally began, some holding signs that said, "believe Boston bruins." Once it started, chants of "We got the Cup. We got the Cup" rose from several locations.
They came from near and far.
"I'm a Bruins fan," said Robert Legault, 47, explaining his decision to come from his home in Ottawa. "I think of Bobby Orr when I was a kid. I was watching Bobby."
Justin Gray, 25, of Portland, Maine, carried one of many handmade Stanley Cup imitations.
"I built it on Tuesday," he said. "I had a vision."
Many in the crowd wore Bruins garb of all sorts from simple T-shirts to expensive replica jerseys. Gold confetti streamed from buildings. A huge black-and-gold flag with the words "2011 Stanley Cup champions" fluttered across from City Hall.
Mark Recchi, retiring at age 43 after 23 NHL seasons, thanked the fans. Many of them had watched Orr soar across the slot after scoring the Cup-clinching goal against St. Louis in 1972, the last time -- until Saturday -- that the Bruins celebrated a championship.
"If it wasn't for you guys, we wouldn't have gotten this far," Recchi said before the rally. "It's unbelievable. ... We started in Vermont from training camp, went to Prague. We played together, we drank together, we lost together and we never wavered. The one thing we really did together is we won."
The players and their fans certainly don't want to wait nearly four more decades for that to happen again.
"Thanks for the patience on the 39 years," general manager Peter Chiarelli said. "The next one will come a lot quicker."