Penguins fans cheer Stanley Cup champions

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Hundreds of thousands of fans crowded two of Downtown's widest boulevards today as the Penguins returned hockey's biggest prize to Pittsburgh.

The noontime Stanley Cup victory parade celebrating Friday's clinching game over Detroit featured trucks carrying players and their families -- and their trophies -- on Grant Street and the Boulevard of the Allies.

Evgeni Malkin rode with his Conn Smythe hardware for being the most valuable player in the playoffs, and captain Sidney Crosby and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury hoisted the Stanley Cup as it made its way to the reviewing stand at Stanwix Street. Fans waved messages of thanks, ridicule for a player who defected to Detroit this year, and marriage proposals.

Players such as Bill Guerin, Jordan Staal and Max Talbot periodically jumped from their trucks to shake hands with the fans.

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Massive cheers echoed throughout the Grant Street corridor, as viewers hung from windows at the federal courthouse, filled up steps at the U.S. Steel Tower and the Mellon building, and waved from open windows in the Koppers building.

Near-deafening cheers and confetti also greeted Crosby at the six-level garage at the corner of Smithfield Street and the Boulevard of the Allies.

At the reviewing stand, owner Mario Lemieux said the cup was back where it belonged. He thanked the fans, saying they contributed to a family atmosphere around the team. "You guys are part of our family. Thank you, Pittsburgh, enjoy it," the Hall of Famer said.

General Manager Ray Shero also saluted the crowd for its support during Game 6 of the final, a must-win game for the Penguins at the Mellon Arena.

As he did after Game 7, Crosby lifted the cup above his head and told the crowd today was better than he ever dreamed. He sounded choked-up as he thanked the crowd and the ownership for giving the team a chance to win every year.

When Guerin took the stage, the crowd chanted "One more year," a reference to the mid-season trade that brought the veteran winger here for the rest of the year. Guerin has said he would like to stay with the team.

Fleury said he appreciated that fans cheer for him even after he lets in soft goals, and he apologized to parents because their kids sometime hear his expletives on TV after some of those goals.

As the speeches ended, the players re-enacted the Game 7 post-game ritual, handing off the cup from one to the next.

The crowd estimate of 375,000 bettered the 350,000 for the Steelers Super Bowl parade in February. Many children, finished with school for the summer, and the pleasant weather no doubt helped swell the crowd.

Fans were markedly younger and less rowdy than those at Steelers victory parades. In another difference from football crowds, there were few people drinking alcohol or tailgating along the route -- the coolers and beer cans at the February parade were replaced this time by baby strollers.

Police said there were only two arrests, one for disorderly conduct and one for sales of T-shirts without a license. Medics handled 23 calls, mostly for people who became dehydrated as the temperature reached 80 under cloudless skies.

For those who wouldn't or couldn't join the Downtown throng, the parade was televised live.

But watching the parade on television was not a consideration for the thousands who swarmed into town this morning. As of 9:30 a.m, fans were lined up a dozen deep around the end of the parade route on Stanwix and packed in for blocks up the Boulevard. The first people arrived around 4:30 a.m. Sidewalks also were crowded on both sides of Grant Street.

Danielle Hooks, who turned 20 on Saturday, said she drove in from Vandergrift to thank the team "for bringing the Stanley Cup home for me for my birthday and because Malkin's my future husband."

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She was wearing a homemade tank-top saying "MVP 2009 Stanley Cup Champs" on the front and "71 Malkin" on the back. "I know all three of his cars and I run down the street after him. If that's not stalking I don't know what is," she joked.

Russell Madden, 15, an 11th grader this fall at Charleroi High School, was covered in homemade Penguins tattoos -- among them "Believe," "Elvis has left the building" and "Superstar" (a famous line from Max Talbot).

He took the bus in at 6:30 a.m. with sisters Nicole and Rachel, all while wearing his lucky Penguins boxers and Penguins pajamas and carrying Talbot and Marc-Andre Fleury shirts. "My son, the human billboard," his mother Mary said.

Many of the homemade signs made pointed reference to Detroit Red Wings star Marian Hossa, who left the Penguins after last season's loss to Detroit in the final and signed with the victors despite the Penguins efforts to keep him. "Hossa 0-2" said one.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, standing outside of the City-County Building prior to the parade, mused about the extraordinary year for the city, including the sports championships and the recent announcement that President Barack Obama chose Pittsburgh to host a September summit of leaders of the world's financial powers.

"It's the triple crown, I guess, right? The Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup and the G-20. . . . When you look at our sports teams and the exposure they bring the city, in a positive way, it's great. So all throughout the Stanley Cup finals and then today, with the parade happening in Pittsburgh, it's national news. It gives Pittsburgh another chance to shine in the spotlight."

Scores of Pittsburgh Police officers -- with help from agencies including Pitt, the Port Authority and state police, including eight horse-mounted troopers -- worked the end of the parade route with other city departments and Penguins staff on today's events. They've had a lot of practice, from the Steelers parade in February to the public observances of the three city police officers killed in April.

"It's been a very, very busy year for Pittsburgh. The highs and lows, we've had them both," said the mayor's chief of staff, Yarone Zober.

He said officials were not actively using today's crowd-control efforts as practice for the G-20. "It's more of a science. You see how good our officers are with large-scale events."

Speaking of large-scale events, vendor T.C. Congdon has been working them for 25 years at Steelers, Penguins and Pirates games but was at the parade today as a fan. (When two of his sons strayed into the giant crowd, he deployed his loud triple-whistle to call them back.)

"Eighteen years is a long time" since the first Penguins Stanley Cup, said the vendor, wearing a Penguins jersey and carrying ballcaps from the 1991, 1992 and 2009 Penguins seasons. "In 1991 the Pirates were working on a World Series and now they're working hard to get back," he said.

Businesses in Market Square and streets around the parade route were seeing an influx of customers, many in Penguins clothes.

"It's been crazy since 7:30 this morning," said Bill Schrader, a security guard at Honus Wagner sporting goods on Forbes Avenue. The store usually opens at 9, but it started serving customers at 7:45.

He said a couple hundred people had visited by 10 a.m., and he said the store has been getting orders for team items from all over the world.

The most popular item by far is a $20 black shirt that says "Steel City -- One Year -- One City. Two world champions. America's best sports town."

Starbucks in Market Square had a line to the door at 9:45 this morning. Lisa Schroeder, a supervisor, said the coffee shop planned for more business, adding extra staff and supplies, but had nearly sold out of pastries.

"That usually doesn't happen," she said. She thought today's parade was busier than the Steelers event, with fans stopping as early as 5:30.

Other business were also hoping for some patronage from the crowd. A plane above the throng pulled a sign: "Congrats Penguins. Blush Gentlemen's Club. Open 12."

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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