CHICAGO – Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith asked for the name of a good dentist. Patrick Kane insisted he loved cabbies. And team captain Jonathan Toews hoisted the Stanley Cup to roars from a huge and appreciative crowd.
An estimated two million fans turned out Friday to cheer for the Blackhawks, holding a boisterous parade and rally to honour the National Hockey League champions who beat the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime Wednesday to win the series 4-2.
The Hawks, some clad in sandals and shorts, many with their caps turned backward, delighted their supporters with seemingly unrehearsed boyish charm.
“Who knows a good dentist, by the way?” asked Keith to laughs and cheers. He lost seven teeth after being hit in the mouth by a puck during a sweep of San Jose in the Western Conference finals, but he was all gap-toothed smiles on Friday.
Kane’s comment was a wink at his arrest following an altercation with a Buffalo, N.Y., cab driver last summer. He exhorted the crowd to be louder and louder, then said: “Just for you guys, for all the cab drivers out there, I love you.”
Some players, including Toews and Patrick Sharp, had shaved off their playoff beards while other like Troy Brouwer, Dave Bolland and goalie Antti Niemi still had theirs.
“What’s up Chicago? Anyone want Pat Kane’s cellphone number?” Sharp playfully called out to the fans.
The Mayor’s Office of Special Events said the crowd was bigger than that for Chicago White Sox World Series celebration in 2005. Spokeswoman Cindy Gatziolis said 1.75 million came for the baseball celebration and speculated that school being out for summer helped draw more people this time around.
There’s no disputing it was a huge crowd, turning the streets red for blocks around a stage the Blackhawks shared with Mayor Richard Daley and Gov. Pat Quinn. Toews looked out over the throng and said, “I didn’t know there were this many people in Chicago.”
Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz, credited for turning around the moribund franchise, told supporters the Stanley Cup is home to stay.
Among the die-hards were Scott Galligan and his family. Galligan, a 47-year-old from Hobart, Ind., and his two sons—5 and 19—camped out for spots at the rally starting at 6 a.m. Friday. It was worth the wait for Galligan, a lifelong hockey fan, who wasn’t alive the last time the Hawks won the cup in 1961.
“Finally they come through this year, it’s been a long time but I’m enjoying it,” said Galligan, who still talks dejectedly about the Hawks’ loss in the 1971 finals to Montreal.
“They broke my heart,” he said.
Dolores and Tom McMahon of suburban Schaumburg and their son, Ryan, camped out for hours before the rally too. Tom McMahon, 54, said it was good to see so many young people there.
“We’re so happy another generation of Blackhawks fans can appreciate this moment. It’s been 49 years,” he said. “In ’71, I never got over when they lost to Montreal in the seventh game. But I’m so happy. This fills in a void.”
Before the rally, the Blackhawks rode through the streets of Chicago in double-decker buses as fans roared and confetti spilled from the rooftops. Team legends, including Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito, joined current players on the open-topped buses. A sea of fans wearing the team’s red-and-black colours streamed into the streets behind the caravan as it headed to Michigan Avenue.
Jockeying for a position along the parade route, was 23-year-old Andy Dwyer of St. Charles, who has two Blackhawks tattoos to prove his dedication to the team, one on each calf and the newest inked on Wednesday. He said his team will go all the way again next year.
“I love my Blackhawks,” said Dwyer, a Hawks flag draped around his shoulders as a cape. “There are no words to express the joy and the excitement that the Hawks have brought the Stanley Cup back to Chicago.”
Alex Manley, 18, of West Chicago wore a feathered headdress and admitted to being new to Blackhawks fandom.
“I love bandwagons. They’re the best,” Manley said. “You get to dress up, it’s great.”
Thrilled to have the silver cup back in Chicago, fans brought tin foil replicas to the parade. They climbed street lights and stood atop parking garages to get a better view of the real cup.
Craig Marr, 49, a Chicago attorney, walked the parade route and enjoyed the rally, getting the most out of the celebration for a team he has long followed. Marr said he loves how the city comes together to celebrate and the new fans the Hawks have created.
“As a longtime Blackhawk fan, you know, I’m thrilled that there’s all these people now. I mean I know some people are like well, you just jumped on the bandwagon but there’s plenty of room on the bandwagon,” Marr said.
“This is a whole other generation of Hawk fans and I think that’s fantastic,” he said.
Associated Press writers Deanna Bellandi and Rick Gano contributed to this report from Chicago.