Sleepless fans give Bruins heroes' welcome

Fans gathered at TD Garden on Thursday morning to welcome home the Bruins -- and the Stanley Cup. Brendan Hall/ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- From near and far, weary from a long night of celebrating, a crowd gathered outside of TD Garden to greet the newest Stanley Cup champions as they made the return trip from across the continent.

“Next time swing it over here, brotha. I wanna get on TV, too,” cracked Bruins fan Shannon Barnes, 25, of Lynn, to the cameramen at the TD Garden entrance just a shade past 7 a.m.

Barnes, her boyfriend Mike Teatro, 24, and their neighbor Jeff Casino, 35, celebrated with a sleepless night of "NHL 11" on Playstation 3 and caught the first inbound blue line train from Wonderland to camp out as early as 6 a.m. to greet their returning heroes.

Across the way, 27-year-old Billy Fournier of the Winter Hill section of Somerville had been given the night off from his overnight security guard shift in Charlestown and was now getting updates on the Bruins’ route from Vancouver from his mother in North Conway, N.H., who was affixed to the one channel that came in on her set, New England Cable News, which was following the Bruins around the city, en route from Logan Airport to the Garden.

“Bruins just landed!” he yelled just a few minutes after 8:30 a.m., clutching a plastic shopping bag filled with two disposable cameras and an iced tea, before leading chants of “We got the Cup!”

Next to him, Ronda Dorson of Allston was holding her two-month-old, Ron Dunn, decked out in championship gear, and was quickly becoming a star for the cameras.

By the time the team rolled up in two coach buses, that small crowd of a few dozen had exploded into more than 500, lining the fences and barricades around the entire circumference of the Causeway Street Garden entrances. The ovation was loud and long as the bus made its way inside the gates and players disembarked.

The theme was clear once the players emerged from the buses to greet the media pack -- or so it seemed. Exhaustion? Excitement? Surprise?

Asked if he caught any sleep on the plan ride over, a slightly dazed Brad Marchand flashed his trademark grin and shot back, “No I did not -- can you not tell?”

Everyone got a chance to touch the Cup during the team’s charter flight back to Logan airport, Marchand continued.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “We went out there and didn’t know what was gonna happen, and we came together as a team and proved we’re the best team in the world right now. It’s pretty special.”

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” captain Zdeno Chara said. “You work so hard for so long, and we are so happy to bring the Cup back to Boston after so many years. It’s a very special day.”

Asked how long it might take for this to sink in, Chara said, “That’s a good question. We are so overwhelmed that it’s going to take a few days. But we’re going to enjoy it right now. Everyone is so happy.”

Tim Thomas, the folk hero of this run, has done too many interviews to really let this sink in just yet.

“It’s a long flight out and long back,” he said. “It’s really hard to get your mind around it when you’ve been skating for so long for so hard. I think it might take a day or two, maybe it will take until the parade. I’m not sure, we’ll see.”

Casino, for one, was feeling good for a guy on no sleep.

“It’s too surreal, it’s all surreal,” he said before the team bus arrived. “I’ve never seen a Cup in my lifetime. I’m a die-hard, this is so emotional for me.”

Fournier was working on maybe an hour and a half of rest, having celebrated deep into the night at his home with nearly a dozen friends after putting his kids to sleep. (Wife OK with that? “She had no choice, this was my night,” he laughed.)

“I was in tears,” he exclaimed. “Twenty-seven-year-old man with a tear coming down his eye. Just like it was for Game 7 [of the Eastern Conference finals] against Tampa Bay, man, when we were going. It’s here. Words can’t explain. I felt like one of the players.”

Casino and Barnes recall waiting outside the box office at 4 a.m. for tickets for the heartbreaking Game 7 loss to Carolina two years ago in the Eastern Conference semifinals, sitting in Section 308 and “leaving in tears”.

So how will they celebrate?

“We’re probably going fishing after,” he said.

But Jeff, you’re not working?

“Shhhh,” he smiled, raising his right index finger to his lip.