CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Blackhawks fans packed downtown and into Soldier Field Thursday for the championship celebration honoring the team's third Stanley Cup title in the last six years.
The city estimates 2 million people attended this year's parade and rally, including those who were in the south lot at Soldier Field.
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CUP HITS THE TOWN
The Stanley Cup began the day at the United Center as Patrick Sharp carried it towards double-decker buses that would lead the parade. The Stanley Cup was on display throughout the parade and rally, but afterwards, it entered the Hyatt Regency Chicago for a private party.
On Thursday evening, the Cup headed out for another night of partying with players and fans. The star attraction made an appearance in the balcony window of the Jefferson Tap in the West Loop.
After being in full view for an estimated 2 million people all morning, the Stanley Cup was a bit more elusive as Coach Q and the coaching staff took it barhopping. The owners got a 20-minute warning that it was headed their way.
"To have it here and host the Cup at our bar is just absolutely fantastic," said Kevin Ojanovac, owner of Jefferson Tap.
Among other stops was TWO Restaurant and Bar in in River West and the Crossroads Bar near the United Center.
"They took our table right out from underneath us, moved our drinks right off and slid it in," said JoAnne Berg.
Though many fans have been celebrating with the Cup all day, the party showed no sign of slowing down.
THE RALLY AT SOLDIER FIELD
After United Center announcer Gene Honda and National Anthem singer Jim Cornelison kicked off the festivities, Hawks TV announcer Pat Foley opened the rally by apologizing that Grant Park was a "puddle" and said he wished 2 million people could fit in Soldier Field.
The rally began nearly 45 minutes late as security let fans fill vacant seats after the city scrambled to make the event happen following days of rain.
After opening remarks by team VP John McDonough, Foley remembered those past and present from the Blackhawks organization that had passed away in the last year, and recounted the 2015 playoffs journey that got the Hawks to the Final victory.
After team owner Rocky Wirtz also spoke, Foley introduced the Blackhawks staff and a handful of past greats who were in attendance, including Bobby Hull and Tony Esposito.
"Stan, we miss ya, we're thinkin' of ya," Foley then said, referencing Blackhawks great Stan Mikita, who now suffers from advanced dementia.
Coach Joel Quenneville was then introduced, and recounted the past Stanley Cups and the moments that stuck out in his mind.
"I think back and I think, in 2010, I think of Philly, I think of Kaner the Magician making the puck disappear. 2013 - I think of 17 seconds," Quenneville said to an eruption from the crowd. "And this one, it'll go down in my memory, what made this Cup, the best memory - is all about team."
Foley introduced Duncan Keith as Dun-Conn for his Conn Smythe trophy win as the crowd chanted Keith's name. Keith spoke, remembering the first time he came to Chicago 10 years ago at age 20, buying Cubs tickets off the street for the nosebleed seats at Wrigley, with a pole obstructing their view.
"But it turns out I got a pretty good view 10 years later at Soldier Field," Keith said.
"Last time we were doing this we were saying it was two in four years, now we're proud to say it's three in six," Patrick Sharpe said. "There's nothing like winning the Cup on home ice in the NHL."
The team took several opportunities to remember assistant equipment manager Clint Reif, 34, who committed suicide in late December. After every victory, the Blackhawks award a championship belt to the player who contributed the most to that win. After Game 5, it was given to Chris Versteeg. Versteeg, in turn, paid tribute to Reif on stage at the rally, by giving the belt for Game 6 to Reif's son, CJ.
"This is really about Clint Reif and the Reif family. We hold them really dear to our heart," Versteeg said.
Shortly thereafter, in typical Corey Crawford fashion, Chicago's goalie stepped to the mic and yelled out an expletive.
Finally, Foley introduced the team captain, Jonathan Toews to close it out.
"There's just no way to put it into words what this is," Toews said. "It's been absolutely incredible to be in the locker room with these individuals, these guys.
"We play for the best fans in the world," Toews continued, sounding hoarse. "Maybe the only way it does get better is if we win four. Let's go!"
THOUSANDS LINE PARADE ROUTE
The parade stepped off about 20 minutes late and moved swiftly - but not as quickly as in 2013 - through the Loop streets.
The parade wound from the United Center through downtown Chicago, over the river and past Michigan Avenue, where a large group climbed onto a Coca-Cola truck in anticipation of the parade. A sea of red and black covered Michigan Avenue and nearby Millennium Park as the parade concluded and the buses headed for Soldier Field.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner was at the United Center wearing a Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews black replica jersey. Rauner told reporters it's a "great day for the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois." The governor said Thursday that the parade and rally at Soldier Field are "fantastic (ways) to celebrate one of the greatest franchises in all of sports."
Rauner was also shaking hands with players and staff as the team waited for the rally to commence at Soldier Field.
"What's really exciting about this third time is that it's at home, and we can share it with the fans," team owner Rocky Wirtz said. "The crowd in the United Center was exhilarating, watching the fans celebrate outside afterwards. The fans celebrated, but they did a terrific job, had a good time without being disruptive."
Chants of "We want the Cup! We want the Cup!" rang out from fans outside the United Center as Chicago Blackhawks players prepared to board red double-decker buses for their Stanley Cup championship parade.
Two rows of buses started their journey in the stadium's south parking lot with Blackhawks players, coaches and staff. Fans watched behind metal fences by the statue of another athlete who brought a championship dynasty to Chicago: Michael Jordan.
The Blackhawks rode atop the buses on a parade route through downtown Chicago to a rally planned at Soldier Field, where more fans are waiting.
Patrick Kane, who recovered from a fractured collarbone mid-season, seemed to help rejuvenate the team with his return this spring. But Kane brushed it off before the parade kicked off as he waited in the United Center parking lot.
"We had a really good record when I was out, when I came back I didn't feel the weight of the world on my shoulders," he said. "I just tried to fit in and help the team as much as possible."
Kane said the team has learned a bit from their past two championships, including what to expect from these celebrations.
"You bring the Stanley Cup somewhere, it's gonna draw a crowd," Kane said. "It's a great lookin' trophy."
Kane said he's already watched the third period of Game 6 a couple times to relive the excitement. He said that final goal he scored, putting the Hawks up 2-0, made him feel confident they had the win in hand.
"I knew throughout the whole series that no team had a two-goal lead. I know there was, like, 4 or 5 minutes left. And with two goals, I felt pretty good about our chances," Kane said.
FANS FLOCK TO SOLDIER FIELD, DOWNTOWN
As fans poured into downtown, the rain moved in as well, but was finished by 9:15 a.m. Early attendees saw lightning as storms passed through. Fans were asked to stay off the field and seek shelter inside at Soldier Field around 8:30 a.m. after thunder and lightning at the stadium.
Several people were overcome by heat by 10:15 a.m. as they waited for the celebration to begin near Michigan and Monroe. Chicago Fire Dept. spokesperson Larry Langford said a total of 41 people were treated for heat-related issues during the parade and rally, and some of them were taken to area hospitals for observation.
On Thursday afternoon, Metra officials said some trains have been canceled and others are leaving downtown earlier than scheduled to keep up with the crowds. While the trains remain busy, the crowds at Union Station have been lighter than the morning rush.
Milwaukee West, Milwaukee North, UP-W, UP-NW and Rock Island District trains ran express on Thursday morning because of the number of Blackhawks fans trying to get to the city. BNSF Line trains were briefly delayed after an inbound train experienced mechanical issues around 7 a.m., but trains are on the move again. At the Elmhurst Metra stop around 7:30 a.m., some passengers were unable to board because the cars were so full. One rider said conductors were also having a hard time getting through the crowds to take tickets.
Both the CTA and Metra added extra trains on Thursday. The CTA also warned that several downtown bus routes will be altered because of the parade.
Metra said alcohol and bicycles will be banned on all trains for the entire day. Bikes are also being banned on CTA trains.