By Ros Krasny
BOSTON (Reuters) - As many as a million jubilant hockey fans packed downtown Boston on Saturday for a parade in honor of the NHL Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.
The Bruins won hockey's prized trophy for the first time since 1972 with their 4-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday in the series-deciding seventh game.
"You guys wanted it. We got it. The whole of the city, the whole of the Northeast supported us. Let's have some fun!" said Tim Thomas, Boston goalie and the playoff's most valuable player, before the parade started in front of the TD Garden, the Bruins' home arena.
Players, coaches and team personnel rode 18 amphibious Duck Boats past huge crowds on a two-mile route to Copley Square in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood.
Giant monitors were set up on the historic Boston Common and on the Square so fans, many dressed in the team's black and gold colors, could watch the entire parade.
Thousands were already pressed against barricades at Copley Square by early morning, jostling for the best spots to see the rolling victory party.
Rob Lang, 42, a plumber from Whitman, Massachusetts, brought his son Thomas, 7, to see the namesake goalie and the rest of the team.
"It was a good show," said Lang. "I'm a Bruins fan from way back. I've watched more Bruins situations where good turned to bad. This was different."
The players wore black championship T-shirts, white caps and Mardi Gras beads. Most were clean-shaven, having cut off their traditional "playoff beards" since Wednesday night's win in Vancouver.
Veteran winger Mark Recchi, on his third Stanley Cup winning team in a 22-year NHL career, highlighted the camaraderie that drove Boston through their long season.
"We played together. We drank together. We lost together, But the one thing we really did together -- we won," said Recchi, 43, who has announced his retirement.
For many Bruins backers, the Stanley Cup win and the parade were the culmination of decades of frustration.
"I was six years old the last time the Cup came through. To actually see the Cup going through the streets of Boston -- you can't describe it," said Marty Bahamonde, a government disaster relief specialist from Scituate, south of Boston. Bahamonde watched the parade with his sons Sam, 8, and Nicholas, 10.
TAKING IT TO THE STREETS
The Bruins have repeatedly highlighted the support they felt from Boston sports fans, and repaid it in kind by bringing the Cup to the people, literally.
"The Stanley Cup was won by these guys, but it belongs to you guys out there," Bruins head coach Claude Julien told the crowd before the parade kicked off.
On Thursday, after returning from Vancouver, team-members took the 35-pound trophy on an impromptu swing through Boston's historic North End and to other city hot spots.
Captain Zdeno Chara was photographed holding the trophy aloft on the roof of his condominium. The cup was taken to lunch at a waterfront restaurant, and spent time at other eateries and bars into the early hours of Friday morning.
At one point Chara and fellow defenseman Andrew Ference loaded the revered trophy into a baby stroller and wheeled it through the streets, delighting local residents.
Boston's four major professional sports franchises have now won seven championships since 2002.
Coach Julien on Saturday thanked his peers on Boston's winning football, baseball and basketball teams for their support during the playoffs.
"They made me feel like I was part of their group," said the taciturn 51-year-old former NHL pro, who has coached the Bruins for four years. And now he is.
(Additional reporting by Lauren Keiper; Editing by Jerry Norton)