Rally caps off emotional day for Blackhawks, fans
To a man, the veteran Blackhawks who have seen a parade or two all agreed on one thing Thursday:
This one was the best.
"Even better than last time," Brandon Saad told NBC. "The fans are so loud, so passionate."
In many ways, it was also the most touching.
After the double-decker buses full of players, coaches, team executives, wives, girlfriends, babies and kids made their way through a sea of red along the parade route, they were dropped off at a loud, pulsating Soldier Field.
Patrick Kane introduced Jonathan Toews, who brought out Lord Stanley's Cup, and then play-by-play man Pat Foley took the mic. In a class move early in his remarks, Foley recognized Mike Spellman, the Daily Herald's Blackhawks writer and do-everything reporter who passed away in January at the age of 50.
Tweeted Herald sports editor Tom Quinlan: "Thanks to @NHLBlackhawks and Pat Foley for remembering Mike Spellman in tribute with others lost this season. #Class"
If that didn't make some eyes well up, then the next tribute certainly did. After a few players came on stage, Kris Versteeg walked up with 9-year-old C.J. Reif, the son of Clint Reif. Clint, the team's assistant equipment manager, passed away in December, just a month before Spellman in what was a trying season for the Hawks, who also remembered a former teammate, Steve Montador, who died in February at age 35.
Versteeg's job was to hand the championship belt off from his Game 5 performance to the teammate he felt deserved it most from Game 6.
But after acknowledging Patrick Kane and Brad Richards, Versteeg said the belt -- which wasn't on stage -- would be awarded to C.J.
"This is really about Clint Reif and the Reif family," Versteeg said. "We hold them really dear to our heart. This is his son, C.J.
"And he gets the belt from all of us."
As Soldier Field roared, Versteeg picked up C.J., who thrust his arms skyward.
Duncan Keith, who earlier brought his Conn Smythe Trophy on stage, also referenced his good buddy, saying, "This one's for Reifer."
There were some good one-liners Thursday, including this gem from team owner Rocky Wirtz:
"Hey, did anybody notice we had a little bit of rain on Monday night (before Game 6)? I didn't see any Lightning."
And this from Foley: "Can you believe we're doin' this again? … It's is epic. It is seismically spectacular."
Chicago police estimated the parade and rally drew 2 million fans, with the first fans sprinting onto Soldier Field just after 9 a.m., and some parade watchers lining the streets at 7 a.m. The parade got off to a late start and the rally -- scheduled to start at 11 a.m. -- didn't begin until almost noon, not that the crowd seemed to mind.
After former Hawks greats Bobby Hull, Tony Esposito and Denis Savard joined the champions, Foley gave a shout out to the one on many people's minds: Stan Mikita, who suffers from a progressive brain disorder.
"Stan ... we're thinking of you," Foley said.
One of the biggest questions was whether or not goalie Corey Crawford would watch his mouth this time, as opposed to 2013 when he belted some R-rated language to the throng at Grant Park. Crawford said Wednesday that he'd be "more professional" but when it came time for him to step to the microphone, he couldn't help himself.
"(Bleepin') right Chicaaaagoooo!" Crawford said. "This is an unbelievable feeling to win this at home. You guys make this unbelievable. Thank you so much."
The fans thanked him right back with one of the loudest roars of the day. Plenty of players, including Keith and Jonathan Toews, talked about not stopping at three titles in six years.
"It's been absolutely incredible and a privilege to be in the locker room with these individuals, these guys," said a raspy-voiced Toews. "We all know that we are a part of the best organization in sports in the world. We play for the best fans in the world (ROARS).
"Like the guys are saying, we all grew up dreaming of winning the Stanley Cup and we know this is amazing to be able to hoist this thing. But to be able to do it on home ice and in front of you guys … the best fans in the world, it doesn't get any better than this.
"So thank you very much. You guys are absolutely amazing. And maybe the only way it does get better is if we win four.