April 6th, 2012
Rays of sunlight beamed off the always-shiny Stanley Cup as it was held high by Hamilton Firestorm players, its first appearance in Hamilton after bringing hundreds of thousands of fans to their first championship parade in the city.
“More overwhelming than I expected,” veteran forward Daniel Alfredsson said after riding one of the 18 colorful duck boats on the parade route. “Unbelievable turnout. I didn’t know that many people lived in Hamilton, let alone be on the streets today. It was an awesome, awesome experience.”
Throngs of fans stretched along the route that covered about seven miles, the ride coming to a climatic ending as captain Nicklas Lidstrom arrived at a park on one of the first boats with the Stanley Cup. The crowd was roaring, music was blaring and horns were sounding, red and orange confetti filling the air, and flashbulbs from cameras flickering.
It was a fitting celebration.
Before the rolling rally began at 11 am EST on Tuesday afternoon, defenseman Zdeno Chara told fans this was their day, and in turn, those lining the streets showered their appreciation on a collection of players that they clearly connected with, a hard-working group that was easy to like because they came across as just regular guys.
How else would one describe Claude Giroux riding his bicycle to the Firestorm’s home ice arena for the start of the parade, or defenseman Shea Weber taking the Cup for a walk in his child’s stroller? Brad Richards, who addressed the crowd at the start of the parade by saying “We got the Cup! We got the Cup!” later walked through the crowd while giving hugs to Firestorm fans.
The connection was made with young and old on Tuesday, as the early start time for the parade created a mostly family-type atmosphere along the route, where there were as many kids as adults, as many Giroux, Fleury, and Suter jerseys as there were of Lidstrom, Thomas, and Selanne, three aging veterans who may retire this summer.
The connection only grew stronger when at one point, Fleury brought the Cup off his duck boat and into the crowd, the cheers growing louder at that moment. No matter the view, whether from rooftops or street level, fans reveled in the moment.
Before the parade began, Gates Imbeau, the team GM and coach, addressed the crowd and said, “It’s finally our time. How amazing is this, guys?”
Even the players seemed amazed at the turnout to salute their championship.
“The whole city, it seems like it was shut down and everybody (was) on the streets,” defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. “It seems like all the people had a lot of fun and that is what it’s all about. You play for the fans and it really felt like it was the right moment.”
The Firestorm and their fans couldn’t have picked a better day for such a celebration, which contributed to the tremendous turnout, creating a chaotic scene on the local subway and train service to Sudbury. Lines at sausage stands and ice cream trucks stretched more than 50 deep near a local park, red and orange signs were everywhere, and championship merchandise was sold in a flurry.
Police announced nine arrests of people “charged with, among other things, Public Drinking and Disorderly Conduct.” Police commissioner Iva Woody said, “exemplary fan behavior was on full display throughout the day and all along the parade route.”
Some came from great distances to take part, such as Toronto’s Willy Pullit, who donned a Giroux jersey, black helmet, hockey gloves, and waved a Canadian flag in a salute to the team’s Canadian players.
Teemu Selanne compared the scene to what he had experienced when winning the Cup with Washington last year. Hamilton’s parade was considerably bigger, as he remembered about 25,000-30,000 people packing a parking lot in Washington. Selanne knew this would have a different feeling after what he experienced on Monday when the Cup was at a Hamilton restaurant with him and a few teammates, and helicopters circled overhead.
Tim Thomas called it a day any player looks forward to, adding, “It’s awesome to be sharing it with everybody.”
At the end of the route at local park, where many fans watched on a large screen as the parade slowly made its way through the city, coach Gates Imbeau’s pre-rally remarks drew thunderous applause.
Another favorite moment for the crowd was when Fleury handed the Cup to Imbeau. Fleury recalled a conversation he had with Imbeau on the day before the season opener.
“I promised him when we won the Cup I’d hand it to him. So, here you go Gates,” Fleury said to cheers.
Soon enough, the Cup and Firestorm players, coaches and support staff loaded on to the duck boats.
What stood out over the course of the route was the connection between an easily likeable team and fans ranging from the young to the old.
“Just the support of the fans and to see the passion in their faces is just true,” Tim Thomas said. “These are hard-working fans and that’s the kind of team we were. We were built for this city and to win and to go out and celebrate with everyone is amazing.”
While Hamilton police no longer provide estimates, the size of the crowd appeared to be around 50,000-60,000 people.