Stanley begins tour with parade

A sea of Blackhawks fans filled Grant Park to celebrate the Stanley Cup. Courtesy of Viktor Stalberg [@VStalberg]

A perfect blue ocean of a sky met with a swarming sea of red in Chicago Friday, as fans filled downtown's Grant Park for the Blackhawks Stanley Cup parade and rally.

The number of fans who donned Hawks sweaters for Friday's celebration has not yet been released, but an estimated two million gathered in the Loop to fete the 2010 champions, and this crowd was much larger.

People started to secure their spots along Washington Street at 5:30 a.m., hoping to get an up-close look at the Blackhawks and the Cup.

Sidewalks were filled five or six rows deep for blocks on end and overflow spilled into every intersection. Youngsters looking to get a good view found seats on newspapers dispensers, flower planters and even window ledges.

Meantime, the Blackhawks players were loading up onto double-decker buses at the United Center, joined by team staff, friends and family. Nick Leddy, Brandon Bollig, Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell snapped a shot before their bus hit the streets.

The rally in Grant Park was the main event, so the parade moved quickly this year, making it nearly as blink-and-you-miss-it fast as the back-to-back goals the Hawks buried in Boston Monday night to grab the win. Buses cruised by as fans screamed and tried to snap photos before they were gone.

Then the sidewalks came alive, a river of red following the path of the buses toward Grant Park for the rally.

After much fanfare (and a lot of confetti) the Hawks were off the buses and waiting backstage, ready to greet the fans stretched out at Hutchinson Field. After a few highlight videos and a rousing rendition of the National Anthem from Jim Cornelison, the staff and players were introduced one by one.

Corey Crawford swore like a sailor, Duncan Keith quoted "Braveheart" and, in an unexpected twist, Patrick Kane managed not to lose his cookies this year (maturity!).

The official rally is over, but Lord Stanley leads the next parade -- to the bars of Chicago and the homes of the players and around the world.