Penguins thank 'fierce' fans at welcome-home parade for Lord Stanley's cup
Jim Rutherford called it last year.
"We'll try to meet here at this time next year," the Penguins general manager said June 15, 2016, at last year's Stanley Cup victory parade.
The Penguins, led by captain Sidney Crosby, made good on that.
"We worked all year to get to this point," Crosby said on stage at Point State Park, the endpoint of the team's parade through Downtown on a hot, humid day that attracted hundreds of thousands of fans still marveling over the team's fifth championship win Sunday night.
Crosby called the back-to-back Stanley Cup wins a team effort.
"We knew how tough that was going to be," he said.
"What can we say about this group of hockey players here?" head coach Mike Sullivan said. "These guys are fierce competitors."
The fans, he said, are just as fierce.
The magnitude of back-to-back Stanley Cup wins — the first time a team has pulled off such a feat in 19 years — was not lost on the crowd of fans, many of whom arrived early to start the party.
"The feeling right now is kind of surreal," said Josh Ray of Pine.
Penguins home-ice announcer Ryan Mill introduced each player, including Nick Bonino, still using crutches but expertly managing to keep hold of his beer regardless.
Crosby, the only player to speak on stage, said the Stanley Cup belongs to the fans just as much as it belongs to the team.
"That Game 5 was something I think we'll all remember," he said. "It's great to be able to share this with all of you."
And fans were happy to share in the celebration as well.
"It feels real good winning back-to-back cups," said Connor Wagner of the North Side. "I think we're spoiled here in Pittsburgh with all the good sports teams and getting to championships this often — a lot of cities don't. So I think we're spoiled and sometimes it doesn't set in."
Nine-year-old Riley Keller traveled from Cuba, N.Y., with her parents to show off her outfit: a homemade Stanley Cup costume, complete with a metal mixing bowl to top it all off.
She led both of her youth hockey teams — one an all-girls team and the other of mostly boys — in not just scoring, but penalty minutes as well.
Charles Jetter of Oil City made sure he'd have one of the best views. Sitting comfortably in his convertible — top down in the sunshine — he was just feet away from the parade route on Boulevard of the Allies. He had claimed the spot the night before.
"I just floated in after all the Pirates folks were gone … I slept right here," he said.
He likened the parade to a holiday.
"This is the real way to finish: Not with a Game 7 or Game 6, but with a victory parade and the whole city," Jetter said.
The dedication of fans like Jetter wasn't lost on coach Sullivan.
"Everybody talked about Nashville (fans) through those finals, but they've got nothing on Pittsburgh," he said.
Then he set the date for next year.
"I wonder if (we) can repeat," he said. "Or three-peat, should I say?"
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Matthew Santoni and Brian Rittmeyer contributed to this report.