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Pens cap back-to-back Cups with parade

by Nicole Jelinek and Bryanna McDermott @Penguins / Pittsburgh Penguins

"As I said in 2009, this is hockey heaven."

Penguins emcee Paul Steigerwald addressed these words to a crowd of fans huddled together at Point State Park to celebrate Pittsburgh's back-to-back Stanley Cup championships on Wednesday afternoon.

And it's hard to disagree with him.

A crowd estimated at 650,000 flooded the streets of downtown Pittsburgh, swarmed nearby parking garages, gazed from office windows and inched their way onto rooftops - all to catch a glimpse of the 2017 Stanley Cup champions. Black and gold confetti fell onto Sidney Crosby as he lifted the Cup into the air and over half a million people cheered.

"It's amazing to see so many people here supporting us," Pens winger Patric Hornqvist said. "This is a great sports town, but this is something special. I remember this last year and this was the best part of winning the Cup. It's the same this year."

Looking up and down the streets, it was easy to see just how big of a sports town Pittsburgh truly is, but, also, how much hockey means to this city.

The players were divided up into trucks to ride through the parade, but it didn't take long for them to begin leaping out to greet fans.

Rookie Jake Guentzel, known for being quiet, was the complete opposite for the event. He ran past crowds of fans to give out high-fives and signed autographs - a smile never leaving his face.

"No, no, no," Guentzel laughed when asked if the experience helped break him out of his shell. "This just happens when you win. You're all happy."

All the players were smiling ear-to-ear the entire route. Phil Kessel, who is now a two-time Stanley Cup champion, was barely in his truck, spending the majority of the time signing autographs and taking selfies with fans. Veteran Matt Cullen laughed as the crowd chanted "One more year!" as he made his way through the streets. Prankster Marc-Andre Fleury was quick to pop a bottle of champagne, soaking the crowd before passing the bottle to Cullen in the truck ahead.

After a stressful year of injuries and overcoming adversity, all of this celebrating was well deserved.

"It's been crazy," Trevor Daley said. "What we just accomplished, what we have achieved just says a lot about our group. It is a special group. We are a resilient group that we knew we could do this again. Here we are. We did it."

The fans were just as excited for the celebration after a long season.

Zach Smith and Joshua Watson brought a replica Stanley Cup to the parade. By the end, it was covered in signatures.

"It was a crazy season," Smith said. "We went through so many injuries toward the end of the season and the start of the playoffs, I didn't even know we could make it this far, but I had faith."

"It was a great season," Watson added. "We are diehard fans. It was a magical season, and it was all for this."

Though the parade ended, the celebration won't stop. The 'Ol' 29er' Phil Bourque made that clear when he christened the crowd with his famous line, saying, "Let's take this down to the river and party all summer!"

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