Four sounds better than three? Blackhawks fans agree
Not this team or these fans.
"Let's keep this red machine rolling, baby! Let's do this again, 'eh! Four sounds better than three," star defenseman Duncan Keith told cheering fans who packed Soldier Field Thursday for a rally celebrating the Chicago Blackhawks' third Stanley Cup in six years.
"Dynasty" was rarely uttered, but the Blackhawks showed thousands they're hungry for another championship during the boisterous victory celebration.
"We all know we're part of the best organization in sports in the world," team captain Jonathan Toews said, "and we play for the best fans in the world. Maybe the only way it gets better than this is if we win four. Let's go!"
The party began early, with suburban fans herding into Metra trains that ran at capacity. From there, they stood under dreary skies, sometimes three rows deep, along the parade route, the length of which had been doubled after complaints from fans who were shut out from the ticketed rally.
But there was still the air of solidarity among crowds who danced, sang and cheered together.
"It's one team that represents the entire city. It's the camaraderie. Everybody loves the Hawks," said Ryan Sutherlin of Glenview.
Amber Sparacino, who lives in Rosemont, commended the Blackhawks organization for putting on a classy parade.
"To a longtime fan coming into the city from the suburbs to see the championship parade, it was worth it," Sparacino said. "I've been at a number of parades over the years, either as a spectator or a participant, and nothing ever beats the class and the show that they are able to put on the scale that they do."
Doris Braddock has an enviable boss, getting permission to take the day off work and see the parade with her grown daughter, Kim Braddock. It was the St. Charles woman's first parade, second for Kim, and they both said they'd do it again if Toews and Company win that fourth title.
"The gratitude of the players to all the fans was amazing," Kim Braddock said.
Lizzie Koptik, a college student from Gurnee, mistakenly thought the rally was general admission seating, arriving to Soldier Field four hours before the gates opened. She used simple "blood force," enlisting her friends to try to reserve the free tickets on Ticketmaster before a sellout within minutes.
While she waited for entry, ticket holders were "all pumped up," waving flags and their own replicas of the cup.
They began to spill into Soldier Field at 8 a.m., only to be escorted into covered portions of the stadium after threats of a quick storm.
Amber Vignieri, a Naperville native living in Chicago, refused to complain about the wait or the weather. She knew she was "incredibly lucky" to have a ticket and didn't mind getting a little wet to see her Blackhawks.
"You have to savor it more," she said.
Though the storm never surfaced -- only brief rains -- seats were noticeably empty shortly before the Hawks were supposed to arrive about 11 a.m. The parade's double-decker buses and trolleys ended up behind schedule, giving fans time to fill the stadium. A stadium official estimated a crowd of more than 60,000.
Blackhawks players, coaches and team personnel made a big entrance, taking the stage as fireworks exploded behind them.
Tenor Jim Cornelison gave a powerhouse rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" anthem that left him flushed and the crowd exhilarated. That closing rap by Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom? Not so much.
Team owner Rocky Wirtz threw a thinly concealed jab at the Tampa Bay team defeated by the Hawks in Game 6.
"Did anyone notice we had some rain on Monday night? I didn't see any Lightning," Wirtz quipped.
Patrick Sharp was willing to play favorites.
"2010 was special. 2013 was special. But there's nothing like winning the Cup on home ice in front of you fans," he said.
Goaltender Corey Crawford didn't disappoint those who appreciate his, um, colorful language, introducing his brief speech with profanity nearly drowned out by applause.
There were somber moments, too, with play-by-play announcer Pat Foley paying tribute to the Daily Herald's late Blackhawks reporter Mike Spellman and team equipment manager, Clint Reif, of Lombard, who died last December, during his opening remarks.
"This is really about Clint Reif and the Reif family. We hold them really dear to our heart, and this is his son C.J.," said Versteeg, introducing the youngster as the recipient of the team's wrestling belt, an honor usually reserved for the MVP after each victory.
The rally ended with shots of confetti and, of course, "Chelsea Dagger," prompting a little dance from even a not-so-serious captain.
Joliet resident Brian Hodolitz said he'd still would choose the experience of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with fans at Grant Park over the stadium seating. But Sharon Nallon, from Arlington Heights, was impressed with the crowd control, saying it wasn't as "hectic" as trying to get good views at the venue for the 2013 celebration.
Leaving, however, was much different, with fans inching out onto the streets and foregoing public transportation in favor of a bite to eat or drink.
Long after the confetti had settled and the team had exited with their families, Nallon's friend, Streamwood mom Mary Mattas, and her 13-year-old daughter lingered. While she wished she heard more from the players -- their speeches lasted about half an hour -- Mattas said the stadium offered better accessibility for her daughter, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
"They're going to do it again right, Liz?" Mattas asked her daughter, whose smile and nod said that she, too, thinks four sounds even better than three.
• Daily Herald Staff Writer Andy Martinez contributed to this report.