CHICAGO -- From an hour-long parade to start the day to a sea of red and black at a raucous rally to cap it, the Chicago Blackhawks celebrated their 2015 Stanley Cup championship on Thursday.
"Last time we did this, we were saying it was two in four years," forward Patrick Sharp told the crowd at Soldier Field. "Now we're proud to say it's three in six. Everybody wants to know which was the best Cup … 2010 was special, 2013 was special, but there's nothing like winning the Cup on home ice in front of your fans."
That's exactly what they did three nights prior with a 2-0 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final at United Center. Ever since, it's been one big party in a city that's gotten a lot of practice at it recently.
Two main themes stuck out at the rally. The first is the Blackhawks' desire to win a fourth title in seven seasons. The second is how much they think about former assistant equipment manager Clint Reif, who died at age 34 in December.
Conn Smythe winner Duncan Keith combined both into one final sentiment before leaving the podium.
"Let's keep this red machine rolling, baby!" Keith shouted. "This one's for Reifer! Let's do it again, eh? Four sounds better than three."
Even Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz got caught peeking ahead. After making a lighthearted joke about not seeing any lightning during a storm that passed through Chicago prior to Game 6, Wirtz turned his attention to the fans and the quest for another Cup in the years ahead.
"We won in 2010 and it was the first time in 49 years," Wirtz said. "When we won in 2013, it was a tribute to the team, to our organization … but this win is even sweeter, because of an incredible team of athletes who played with such heart. This is the win that we got at home. This is for you, our fans, and the City of Chicago. Our goal now is, let's stay at home. Let's do it again and let's get four."
First there was the matter of celebrating the third since Wirtz took control of the Blackhawks in 2007.
The Blackhawks again boarded double-decker buses at United Center and headed on a winding path toward an awaiting throng of thousands at the end of their route. As it did in 2010 and 2013, the Blackhawks' parade wound through city streets filled with screaming fans.
Construction workers stopped to take a peek. Firemen cheered. Workers from businesses located along the route rushed to their windows to catch a glimpse. The crowd was estimated at 2 million.
"It just felt like there [were] more and more people," forward Andrew Shaw said. "It just shows the great support we have from these fans here."
Everybody loves a parade in the Windy City, and lately the Blackhawks have staged one every second or third year.
The celebration in 2010 was gigantic and much less staged than the two that followed. The rally in 2013 wasn't nearly as organic as the first one, yet they packed Grant Park for a celebration. This time, the celebration was a little more controlled. Held inside Chicago's historic football stadium, fans lucky enough to score free tickets packed the place.
Even a heavy rain three hours before the ceremony wasn't a deterrent. Once the storm passed and clearance was given to enter the field, a crush of red-clad revelers rushed to take up viewing spots as close to the stage as possible.
They heard speeches, watched prolonged Cup hoists, saw a video montage, and heard Kris Versteeg butcher a pop song, along with forward Joakim Nordstrom, to end it. Versteeg also tugged on a few heartstrings earlier in the event, when he awarded the Blackhawks' postgame championship belt to Reif's young son, C.J., which drew a loud ovation.
"Everybody showed up [in Game 6], but this is really about Clint Reif and the Reif family," Versteeg said. "We hold them really dear to our hearts, and this is his son, C.J., and he gets the belt from all of us."