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Pittsburgh crowd appreciates Rutherford, Sullivan

Penguins general manager, coach get biggest cheers at parade honoring Stanley Cup Champions

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- Each of the Pittsburgh Penguins had his moment, but Wednesday belonged to general manager Jim Rutherford and coach Mike Sullivan.

Three days after winning the Stanley Cup, chants and cheers greeted the Penguins when they rode through the largest sports parade in Pittsburgh's history. Two chants seemed to stand out.

"Thank you, Jim!" the crowd bellowed when Rutherford cruised through the crowd at the intersection of Grant Street and the Boulevard of the Allies.

"Thank you, coach!" welcomed Sullivan.

Fans clamored for centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who each hoisted the Stanley Cup from the back of his truck. Neither was met with the level of appreciation granted Rutherford and Sullivan.

Video: Mike Sullivan on overcoming challenges

It's been a busy two years for Rutherford, who replaced Ray Shero as general manager on June 6, 2014. He overhauled Pittsburgh's lineup by acquiring forwards Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, Eric Fehr and Matt Cullen, and defensemen Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz, either through trades or free agency.

His most important move might have come Dec. 12, when he hired Sullivan to replace Mike Johnston as coach.

Six months later, Rutherford and Sullivan stole the show during the Penguins' victory parade. The players didn't speak much and instead deferred to Rutherford, who ROOT Sports television analyst Paul Steigerwald referred to as "The Sultan of Swap."

"We were slow when we started, but boy, were we fast when we finished," Rutherford said atop a stage at the intersection of the Boulevard of the Allies and Stanwix Street. "This team is really like Pittsburgh, you know? It's a really talented team. It has a lot of character and it's a hardworking team. And it's really what you people are all about."

Pittsburgh's "HBK" line of Bonino centering Hagelin and Kessel showed off a WWE world heavyweight championship belt sent by Paul "Triple H" Levesque, WWE's executive vice president of talent, live events and creative. The crowd cheered the line acquired by Rutherford within the past year and kept intact by Sullivan through the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I just want to say how much of a pleasure it was to play with the legend Phil Kessel," Bonino said.

"No one's better than Phil. Phil the Thrill," Hagelin added.

Kessel didn't say a word. He simply hoisted the Cup as Steigerwald exclaimed, "Phil Kessel's a Stanley Cup champion."

Video: Sidney Crosby on winning his second Stanley Cup

The visual was indicative to the impact Rutherford and Sullivan each has had throughout his tenure in Pittsburgh.

It led Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto to thank each of them.

"You've now earned the respect you've gotten and we're so very proud of you," Peduto said, referring to Rutherford. "Coach, you brought a blue-collar work ethic to a blue-collar town that knows how to work. You made it so that the sum of all these parts was greater by bringing them together. You made us all so proud to cheer on this team."

Sullivan couldn't help but coach Wednesday. When Crosby was asked a question regarding the physicality of the Stanley Cup Final, Sullivan approached him and whispered in his ear, with Crosby replying, "Thanks."

On Wednesday, Sullivan gave his players the credit.

"The one thing I've learned is this is one crazy sports town," Sullivan said. "Maybe even more crazy, this is one crazy hockey town. … This is a group that's been through a lot this year. The challenges that they've overcome to become the best hockey team in the world, we couldn't be more proud of them."

Rutherford's trades and Sullivan's execution have molded the Penguins. Before the parade ended, Rutherford suggested one final deal.

"I'll try to make one deal with you," Rutherford said. "Let's try to meet here at this time next year."

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