PITTSBURGH – Just call it the city of champions.
Four months after celebrating the Steelers’ Super Bowl victory, tens of thousands of people converged on downtown again for a parade, this time in honour of the Stanley Cup champion Penguins. People lined city streets – in some places standing 20 deep or crowding onto multilevel parking garages – to get a glimpse of the team and the cup.
“It’s a holiday for Pittsburgh,” said Michelle Solkovy, 31, of Pittsburgh, who took the day off of work and brought her four-year-old daughter Kendall to Monday’s parade.
The Penguins won their third Stanley Cup Friday in a 2-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. The parade followed the same route that drew an estimated 300,000 fans to the city two days after the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII.
“This is great and there’s gonna be many more,” said Andrew Mehlich, 30, of Pittsburgh, who attended the parade with several family members.
Chanting “Let’s go Pens,” fans honked plastic horns and cheered along the route. Team captain Sidney Crosby held the cup high in the air as he rode in the back of a truck alongside goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
“Thank you guys,” Crosby told the crowd at the end of the parade. “What can I say? I mean the support you guys have given us, the support you have showed … You deserve to be called the city of champions. You deserve the Stanley Cup.”
One fan carried a handwritten sign: “Nothing like a Fleury in June.” Others had homemade aluminum foil replicas of the prized cup, and threw black-and-gold confetti – the team’s colours – along the parade route.
Forward Maxime Talbot jumped out of the car he was riding in to shake hands with the fans.
Betti Labbe, 40, and her husband Joe Szekeres, 44, both of Frederick, Md., drove to Pittsburgh Sunday night and stayed overnight with family. Szekeres is a lifelong Penguins fan who typically comes to about five games a year – but his wife needed a little more coaxing.
“This is the first year I’ve gotten into it this much,” Labbe said. “It was them or divorce so I picked the Penguins.”
Many fans were wearing new shirts that said “Steel City Champions” while others opted not for the black and gold but for the old-style, light blue Penguins jerseys.
Some fans said they were season ticket holders who had seen the Pens play several times. Others were like twins Peter and Nick Ellefson, 14, of Beaver Falls, who have only watched the team on TV. But Peter summed up the victory in one word, “Sweet!”
Kevin Greager, 35, drove about three hours from Greencastle with his son Kody, eight, and daughter Kelsey, five. Graeger said when he heard Sunday that the parade was happening he knew he had to come despite the three-hour drive.
“I have to do it. I’ve been a longtime Penguins fan,” said Greager, a firefighter in Frederick, Md. “We don’t know when they’re going to win the cup again so we’re going to Pittsburgh one way or another.”