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Faces painted and hoisting homemade Stanley Cups, millions of fans fete Blackhawks

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Nam Y. Huh / The Associated Press

Fans cheer along the parade route wielding homemade Stanley Cups as buses carrying the Chicago Blackhawks pass.

CHICAGO - From the jubilant parade all the way to the boisterous rally, millions of excited fans spent a sun-drenched Friday celebrating another Stanley Cup title for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Dressed mostly in red and black, they came out to say thanks for the memories. Turns out, captain Jonathan Toews and Co. wanted to return the favour.

"This shows how unbelievable this city is," Toews said, addressing the rapt crowd at Grant Park. "Unbelievable. Thank you."

The Blackhawks rode to the rally in red, open-topped buses, passing waving and screaming fans of every age as the parade travelled from the United Center to the downtown party. Toews hoisted the Stanley Cup over his head to show it off to the crowd, which was cooled by large water misters placed along the route with temperatures in the low 80s.

One of the many signs read "Thank you, guys" on the top line and "Best 17 seconds of my life" for the second part — referring to the pair of late goals that lifted the Blackhawks to a 3-2 title-clinching victory over the Boston Bruins on Monday night. And there was at least one expression of love for Andrew Shaw, the hardscrabble forward who required stitches on his face after he was hit by a puck Monday.

It was the second championship in four seasons for the Blackhawks, and authorities thought Friday's crowd was even heartier than the 2 million that came out in 2010.

"What do you say we get back here and do it again next year?" forward Patrick Sharp said to a big cheer at the rally.

The Grant Park crowd also enjoyed a brief but colorful speech by normally reserved goaltender Corey Crawford, who drew wide grins and chuckles from his teammates.

"It's tough to follow that speech by Corey Crawford," Toews said after he carried the Cup onto the stage.

Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said 42 people were taken to hospitals with heat-related health problems. He also said 20 people jumped into a restricted part of Lake Michigan and the fire department made sure that all 20 came out of the water.

The massive crowd at the park grew steadily all morning long, with the most ardent supporters camping out overnight, ready to sprint to the big stage the minute police swung the barriers aside. By the time buses delivered the players and their families, the park was packed.

Some fans brought along homemade versions of the Stanley Cup, including one fashioned from an empty beer keg. Twenty-somethings Courtney Baldwin and Meghan O'Kane, from the city's suburbs, slapped together their tribute from a jumble of jugs and plastic bowls painted grey.

It was empty Friday morning, but Baldwin said they planned to fill it with an adult beverage in the afternoon — a common occurrence for the actual silver trophy over the past week.

One fan who dashed to the front near the stage was Michael Wilczynski, a 26-year-old sales associate from the suburbs. His father took him to his first game and they partied together downtown after the last Stanley Cup victory.

"My dad died in February. We came to 2010. I'm not going to miss this. I had to be here," he said.

The Blackhawks gave the city something to celebrate as the Cubs and White Sox grind through another lost summer. And fans took note.

"We love the Blackhawks. This is history and this is a championship, unlike the Cubs," O'Kane said, taking a shot at a team that hasn't won a World Series since 1908.

The franchise's fifth Stanley Cup was the culmination of a banner season for the Blackhawks, who set an NHL record when they recorded at least one point in the first 24 games — half of the lockout-shortened schedule. They finished with the best record in the league.

The dramatic Game 6 victory in Boston sparked a raucous party in parts of Chicago. Fans poured out of bars after the thrilling finish and celebrated in the streets in the several neighbourhoods.

Sarah Schmidt, 22, who grew up in Chicago and made the pilgrimage to Friday's celebrations from Milwaukee, told her boss she was taking the day off no matter what. She hoped her bartending gig would still be there when the party was over.

"I can't miss this," she said.

___

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

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