RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes and their fans celebrated the first major pro title in the state's history Tuesday, with the 114-year-old Stanley Cup signifying that hockey has found a home in North Carolina.
Less than a day after beating the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 in Game 7 of the finals, the Hurricanes took a victory lap around the RBC Center before taking the stage to thank about 30,000 fans who waited through a hot June afternoon to greet the first post-lockout NHL champions.
"You guys helped us to win this," said captain Rod Brind'Amour, a 17-year veteran who was one of several Hurricanes to finally win the Cup after years of falling short. "At the start of the year, we wanted to make you proud of this hockey team, and I think we did that."
It was the team's second trip to the finals since the former Hartford Whalers moved south in 1997. But unlike a five-game loss to Detroit four years ago, the Hurricanes took the final step by holding off a determined Oilers squad in front of a rowdy home crowd Monday night to end an intense, dramatic series.
That prompted Tuesday's parade carrying players through a cheering crowd of "Caniacs" clad in red, white and black. Alternate captain Glen Wesley -- an 18-year veteran who won the Cup for the first time -- held the silver trophy aloft as children in his truck pitched foam pucks into the crowd as if they were medallions tossed from a Mardi Gras float.
"They call it a nontraditional hockey market, but there's all those people out there screaming in the heat," defenseman Aaron Ward said. "So maybe by the standards of temperature we're not a hockey market, but we've got some enthusiasm out there."
Long lines formed for refreshments on the 90-degree day, and a band played as the crowd waited for the players to arrive. Once they did, it took on the feel of a Hollywood premiere as the players -- some stopping to give high-fives -- left the parade vehicles and walked by waving, cheering fans toward the stage.
"I didn't know what to expect," defenseman Mike Commodore said. "I didn't know how many people would show up, but there's a lot of people here. People are excited and it's great. I'm glad they appreciate and everybody enjoys what we did."
Carolina coach Peter Laviolette, who capped a season in which he also coached the U.S. Olympic team, first thanked the fans for their support. Then, he thanked the players who brought home the Cup.
"You guys played your hearts out and it was never more evident than last night," he said. "That was the best game that we ever played. We needed that, you delivered it and because of it, we got that thing right here."
For the fans -- a group that included Gov. Mike Easley, who proclaimed Tuesday "Carolina Hurricanes Day" -- this was a rare opportunity to celebrate hockey in a state better known for college basketball and auto racing.
Bill Murphy, 44, of Raleigh, wore his red Hurricanes sweater and took pride in the life-size replica of the trophy he spent hours building out of cardboard, tape and aluminum foil using specifications he found on the Internet. He said he attached it to the trunk of his Honda Accord two days ago.
A transplanted New Yorker and an Islanders fan his entire life, Murphy wanted his 8-year-old son Brendan to experience his adopted city's celebration.
"There's so much history in that cup," Murphy said. "Some people think it's just a trophy, but it's a way of life for hockey fans."
Bob Cadran, 55, of Apex, sat on a folding chair under a tree wearing his new Hurricanes championship cap. The former Massachusetts resident compared the day's thrill to his beloved Boston Red Sox recovering from a 3-0 deficit in the 2004 American League Championship Series and beating the New York
Yankees before winning a World Series for the first time since 1918.
"This is heaven. I called my mom and said this was better than the Red Sox winning four straight from the Yankees and winning the series. This is our home team," Cadran said.
The party will continue Wednesday, when the team heads to the state House chamber before an afternoon parade through downtown, capping a celebration that lasted until daybreak Tuesday for several players.
Commodore said he didn't manage to get into bed until 7:30 a.m.
"From what I remember, it was great," he said.