BOSTON - Screaming fans dressed in the black and gold of the Boston Bruins smiled, waved and stood on trees and bus shelters as they watched the NHL champions—and the Stanley Cup, of course—roll through city streets on a balmy, breezy day.
And the players they adore gave it right back.
Tim Thomas beamed. Zdeno Chara pumped his fists. Patrice Bergeron signalled to the massive crowd to shout even louder.
Then, as the nearly two-hour "rolling rally" celebration of the Bruins' first title in 39 years neared its end early Saturday afternoon, Andrew Ference raised one finger, then two, then three, orchestrating a familiar chant.
"Let's Go Bruins!" the fans responded. "Let's Go Bruins!"
But there's no need for the Bruins to go any further.
They've already arrived.
The long journey began in Vermont in late September with two days of training camp and ended in Vancouver with a 4-0 victory Wednesday night in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.
In between, the Bruins started the season with two games in Prague against the Phoenix Coyotes—losing then winning on a shutout by Thomas—and grew into a team determined enough to win three of its four post-season series in seven games and good enough to knock off the Canucks, the NHL's best team in the regular season.
The Bruins' trip to their sixth championship got a big boost from their fans, who stuck by them all the way to Saturday's celebration on a sunny day with temperatures reaching the high 20s. Crowds were so deep on the sidewalks that many fans might not have been able to see the players.
Police announced nine arrests of people "charged with, among other things, Public Drinking and Disorderly Conduct." Police commissioner Edward Davis said, "exemplary fan behaviour was on full display throughout the day and all along the parade route."
In a 15-minute program outside the TD Garden before the rally, Boston mayor Thomas Menino thanked the Bruins for "a fabulous season."
Team president Cam Neely, one of the greatest forwards in club history but never a champion, said, "It's finally our time. How amazing is this?"
Chara, the captain, then told the fans, "We couldn't have done it without you," and shared a conversation he had with Neely.
"I promised him when we win a Cup I will hand it to him. So here we go. Come on, Cam," he said as Neely stepped forward, smiled broadly and took the trophy.
At one point, Bergeron and rookie Brad Marchand, who each scored two goals in Game 7, did a poor imitation of the rap song, "Black And Yellow."
Playoff MVP Thomas spoke briefly to the crowd, holding the Cup aloft the whole time.
"You guys wanted it. We got it and we want to share it with you today," said the goalie, one of the few Bruins still sporting a playoff beard. "Let's have some fun."
Then players—wearing white hats and black T-shirts proclaiming them Stanley Cup champions—and team officials boarded 18 colourful duck boats, tourist vehicles designed to travel on land and water. This day, they carried passengers who excelled on ice.
"We all love each other," said first-line forward Nathan Horton, sidelined for the series with a severe concussion early in Game 3. "We all care about each other. We all play for each other. That's the way it's been all year and that's why we won the Cup."
Playmaking centre Marc Savard, limited to 25 games this season by the effects of a career-threatening concussion, rode in the same duck boat as Horton.
The possibility of playing again after missing the playoffs "is really the furthest thing from my mind right now," Savard said. "I just want to enjoy it here and let the boys take the spotlight here because they earned it."
About 20 minutes into the trip to Copley Square, a route of about three miles from the arena where the Bruins were 3-0 against the Canucks in the finals, Thomas said, "It's awesome to be sharing it with everybody. This is the day you really look forward to."
While Boston police no longer provide estimates, the size of the crowd appeared to be larger than all but the one that turned out to celebrate the Red Sox first championship in 86 years in 2004.
AP freelancer Ken Powtak contributed to this report.