CHICAGO -- The rain held off just long enough and the temperature wasn't too cold to plenty of die-hard American hockey fans from celebrating their favorite sport on Sunday morning at Millennium Park's ice rink.
Television analyst and former NHL player Eddie Olczyk -- a native Chicagoan -- skated around with the Stanley Cup, while fans wearing sweaters of many teams waved red flags above their heads at a Chicago Blackhawks-themed start to the day's festivities.
This was how NBC's "Hockey Day in America" started in the Windy City -- where last summer fans flocked downtown just to get a glimpse of the Cup during a ticker-tape parade that still has people talking about it months later.
The Cup was back in town on Sunday -- and the Blackhawks played the Pittsburgh Penguins just down Madison St. in NBC's "Game of the Week" -- but those weren't the only draws for those who braved cold, wet conditions to commemorate their favorite sport.
They came from Chicago, they came from the surrounding suburbs and some even came from different states just to be part of the scene. Ian Rozens, Ellen Baugh and their three young children -- all wearing hockey jerseys -- were among them.
Standing rinkside watching Olczyk skate with the Cup, they stood out among all the Blackhawks gear because of Rozens' Chris Pronger Philadelphia Flyers jersey and Baugh's light blue Marc-Andre Fleury Pittsburgh Penguins sweater.
"We're from Indianapolis, so we don't really have a hometown team to root for," Rozens said. "I'm a Flyers fan, so last year was a little tough, but this is a lot of fun. We saw they were going to do this a few weeks ago and just spur-of-the-moment we decided to come in for the weekend."
Another "odd couple" among all the Blackhawks fans were Matt and Susan Maine, of Chicago.
Both are originally from Michigan and loyal Red Wings fans. Matt wore a Steve Yzerman jersey, while Susan had a Pavel Datsyuk sweater pulled over a "baby bump" -- eliciting some groans from nearby Blackhawks fans when she revealed it.
"We've seen a few other Wings fans around here, and it's nice because there's safety in numbers," said Matt, who grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich. "I'm OK with the Blackhawks winning it last year, though. It's another Original Six team, so what's not to like about that?"
Aaron Terrazas, a Chicago native, couldn't argue with that logic. The lifelong Blackhawks fan celebrated "Hockey in America Day" by coming to Millennium Park with his wife, her parents and their eight-month old daughter, Aribelle -- who was born on the day Chicago clinched the Western Conference Final series last summer. Aaron also carried Aribelle around in her award-winning Halloween costume -- a Stanley Cup outfit made by her mom.
"I'm a huge Hawks fan, but this outfit was actually my wife's idea," Terrazas said. "We came out today because this is about pride, with the U.S. embracing hockey. It's not just about the Blackhawks winning. That's great, too. But this is just a phenomenal sport."
Michael Rigitano, of West Chester, Ill., feels likewise.
After playing travel hockey as a youngster and also for Montini Catholic High School in Lombard, Ill., Rigitano got a unique idea last summer. After watching the Hawks win their first Stanley Cup in 49 years, he built a replica Cup entirely out of beer bottle caps -- 7,000 to be exact.
He started collecting caps from the bar he works for in Elmhurst, Ill., and built the replica by sticking them together with a hot-glue gun in his parent's basement.
Rigitano brought it out to Millennium Park on Sunday and it was a big hit -- especially with the young players on the ice, who made trips over to tap it between drills. The real Cup was even brought over at one point and had a picture snapped next to Rigitano's creation -- which is 35 inches tall and includes caps from various beer brands.
"I've been a hockey fan all my life and I've played since I was 3," he said. "I just got the idea after they won the Cup. It's been featured a lot of places, actually. We've even used it to raise money for cancer research. I just brought it out here to share it with people on a special day here. I've played hockey all my life and I just love the sport."
Author: Brian Hedger | NHL.com Correspondent