SOLDIER FIELD — Tens of thousands of fans gathered at Soldier Field Thursday to celebrate the Blackhawks Stanley Cup championship.
It was, team president John McDonough told them, "your Stanley Cup."
Creating a sea of red in their Blackhawks jerseys inside the lakefront football stadium, the fans just loved that.
Fans found a lot to love about this team: Many of the stars were also on the previous two Blackhawks championship teams. It was the third time in six years the Blackhawks came out on top of the NHL — a feat announcer Pat Foley called "unprecedented," "epic" and "seismically spectacular!"
McDonough, a native of Edison Park on the city's Northwest Side, told fans watching at the stadium and on live television that it "is our life's work to make you proud." He said the celebration was as much a way to recognize the players as it was a way to thank the fans for all the support they have given the team, including flooding Downtown streets in a parade leading up to the Soldier Field event.
Team chairman Rocky Wirtz — from a stage packed with players, team officials and dignitaries including Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner — called the team "incredible athletes who played with heart."
And then he set a new bar: "Let's do it again and let's get four," Wirtz said.
The players enthusiastically agreed.
Duncan Keith: "Let's keep this red machine rolling. Four sounds better than three."
Jonathan Toews: "Maybe the only way it does get better is if we win four...let's go!"
Corey Crawford: "F------ right, Chicago."
Video highlights from the season were shown on the stadium's giant television screens as fans roared. Former Hawks players such as Bobby Hull, Tony Espositio and Denis Savard were introduced. Foley also recognized Stan Mikita, who is suffering from dementia and could not make it: "We miss you. We're thinking of you."
Players were introduced individually, with some grabbing the Stanley Cup off a table and raising it above their heads as people cheered. Joakim Nordstom and Kris Versteeg warbled an off-tune version of Macklemore's "And We Danced," which included the lyric "remember this moment for the rest of our lives," that had teammates laughing and the rest of Blackhawks Nation cringing.
Earlier, hundreds of thousands of fans lined Downtown streets and Blackhawks players rode double decker buses in the Stanley Cup celebration — an event "that's always an adrenaline rush," Patrick Kane said before boarding.
As the Hawks star prepared to board a bus, Kane told reporters that even though it's the third time for him in a championship parade in Chicago, it never gets old. He praised the team's fans and said the players are in awe of their support.
"Wherever we go with that thing [the Stanley Cup], people want to go," said Kane. "We're enjoying every second of it."
Brandon Saad told NBC5 that the parade was "even better than last time."
"The fans were so loud, so passionate," Saad said of the parade goers.
Brad Richards added that he got "chills all day going through that parade route."
Andrew Shaw thought there were more fans this year along the parade route. "It just shows how great the fans are we have here."
Patrick Kane said that in a couple days, players will leave Chicago and return to their hometowns — a necessity, he said.
"If you stay here, you'll be out every night, so we have to go home and get some rest," he said.
There's a fourth cup to pursue, after all.
"We made it," said Benito Dorio, who was one of thousands of fans at Soldier Field Thursday. "I'm so excited, I'd cry but there's too many people watching right now," the 27-year-old Chicago native said. Dorio said he has been a Blackhawks fan since he was four years old, when his mother signed him up for hockey classes.
Benito Dorio, 27, shows off his Blackhawks tattoo. [DNAinfo/Mauricio Pena]
"When I got my [Blackhawks] tattoo 10 years ago, my dad told me I was crazy," Dorio said. "But at the end of the day, rain or shine, win or lose, I'll always be a Hawks fan."
Zach Veigulius, 24, drove in from Des Moines, Iowa. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Veigulius said. "I missed the rally in 2010 and 2013, but I told my boss, 'I have to capitalize on this. See you Monday.'"
Marcia Tsiribas, 21, who attended the past two victory rallies was at a loss for words to be standing at Soldier Field. "Oh my god, I've been crying all morning," Tsiribas said. "It feels so special to have a victory on home ice, this is just incredible."
The first pre-season game is Sept. 22 against the Detroit Red Wings.
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