As nearly 400,000 of fans flooded the corner of Grant Avenue and Sixth Street, anticipating the most exciting highlight of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season, overwhelming excitement was palpable person to person.
It was the first time since winning their fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history that fans were able to see the Pens with the Cup in hand.
“There was no way I was going to miss this one,” Braylee Gaertner, a Pittsburgh resident, said before the parade. “I was too young to see the last, so this is exciting to see firsthand because the atmosphere is so crazy.”
As 11:45 a.m. rolled around, cheers continued to build just as the crowd did, and a few helicopters flew overhead. But nothing sent electricity through the veins’ of the crowd like ringing bells, signaling the front of the parade.
The likes of Dan Potash and Paul Steigerwald passed in a convertible, followed by the most necessary parade features: a few high school pep bands, a Zamboni with the Stanley Cup logo on the side, police officers on saddles and don’t forget the candy throwers, because there were plenty.
Defensemen Olli Maatta, Brian Dumoulin and Ben Lovejoy were a few of the first members of the team to pass.
Marc-Andre Fleury, joined by his family, earned a well-deserved “FLEURY, FLEURY” chant as he went down the street. His counterpart, Matt Murray also received his rightful ovation a few cars later.
Carl Hagelin warmed fans up with an ‘HBK’ rally call as he passed with his family.
Head coach Mike Sullivan and owner Mario Lemieux both zipped down the street, cool as ever with their black shades on and car-tops down, enjoying every second in their tour of Pittsburgh.
Another resident, Stephanie Sarver, saw the Pens’ parade in 2009, but said this year’s rally felt like it was more exciting.
“It’s incredible,” Sarver said during the parade. “We’re the ‘City of Champions’ for a reason. It feels like people appreciate it more this time around. It’s just really awesome for the city.”
With each passing car, cheers crescendo until the split-second everyone had been dreaming of since the beginning of the season.
A freshly-shaved Sidney Crosby passed in a car by himself, and as any captain would do with CONSOL Energy Center shining in the background, hoisted the Stanley Cup high over his head, and as if it were conducted by the Pittsburgh Symphony, a “Let’s go Pens,” chant stormed the streets and did not stop until the Conn Smythe winner was far out of sight.
“Pittsburgh is such a great sports town,” Mike Neurohr said after stepping out of his office to see the Cup. “People have been asking questions about the Pens the last few years, but they came out and really proved everybody wrong.”
Not many people will forget what this Penguins team did in 2016, but no one will forget how special they made the city of Pittsburgh feel in one of their most magical seasons ever.
“The team they had this year played with more heart than any team I’ve ever seen,” Neurohr finished. “Sometimes you just get a feeling about a team. They had that ‘it’ factor this year. I’m honestly bummed the season is over.”