BOSTON – Forward Shawn Thornton is one of the toughest Boston Bruins, and he was one of two B's who had already been through the experience of winning and celebrating a Stanley Cup victory.
But Saturday's "Rolling Rally" parade to celebrate the Bruins' first championship since 1972 – a celebration that drew about 1 million Stanley Cup-starved fans to the streets of Boston -- left quite an impression on Thornton.
"It was more overwhelming than I expected," he said after he and his teammates' procession on Boston's famous Duck Boats was complete. "It was an unbelievable turnout. I didn't know that many people lived in Boston, let alone would be on the streets today. It was an awesome, awesome experience."
In some ways the "Rolling Rally" was a culmination of four days of celebrating after the Bruins won Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final by beating the Canucks 4-0 in Vancouver on Wednesday. But it also marked the beginning of a summer of partying for the Bruins and their newly won Cup, which will spend time with each and every one of them over the course of this offseason.
Even before the parade, the Bruins were feeling the love from the Boston faithful as they carted the Cup to numerous places around town.
"People would tell you, 'this is a hockey town; you've got to do it,'" defenseman Andrew Ference said about fans' urgings to win the Cup. "We kind of played the underdog bit at the end, but throughout the whole year and especially with the last couple of seasons the way they went, there were expectations for us to actually perform and to get the job done. So it's really satisfying to be able to do that, to live up to our expectations but also the expectations of the fans and people in the city."
The day kicked off at TD Garden with some remarks from Mayor Thomas M. Menino, owner Jeremy Jacobs, team President Cam Neely, General Manager Peter Chiarelli, coach Claude Julien and players Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara, Mark Recchi and Patrice Bergeron.
Neely thanked pretty much everyone in the organization, then stressed what he thought was the key to the Bruins finishing the season on top.
"I mean, you want to talk about a team, this is a team right here," the Hall of Famer said. "To watch these guys grow from (the season opener in) Prague, all the way to their last game in Vancouver, their development, how they bonded, the character of these guys, it's a great, great, great group of players. They have a deep affection for each other and it showed on the ice."
For Recchi, the celebration was among his final acts as an active player. The 43-year-old announced his expected retirement following Boston's Game 7 victory over Vancouver.
"I can't thank the Bruins organization [enough] for making my last few years amazing and getting the opportunity to play with these guys in here now," the three-time Cup winner said. "We started in Vermont from training camp, went to Prague. We played together, we drank together, we lost together, and it never wavered. But the one thing we really did together is we won.
"One more thing: Thanks for the patience on the 39 years -- and the next one will come a lot quicker."
In total, there were 18 Duck Boats in the parade, which featured players, front-office personnel, "Blades" the mascot and others. A well-behaved mass of people lined the streets hoping to catch a glimpse of Boston's newest sports heroes.
"There were too many signs, I don't even remember all of them," defenseman Tomas Kaberle said. "There were some funny ones for sure. It seems like all the people had a lot of fun, and that is what it's all about. You play for the fans and you want to do well and this is obviously -- it took 39 years for Boston to do it and it seems like it was the right moment."
The parade route started and ended at TD Garden. After saying a few words to the media, Bergeron walked back home to the North End and Chara rode his bike through the crowd to his downtown home – a couple of Boston stars rubbing elbows with the masses.
It was the perfect ending to a day that was about both those fans and the players who brought the Stanley Cup back to them.