The official Blackhawks victory parade starts on the Near West Side and winds up at a Grant Park rally, but for Cambridge, Mass., resident Jason Kedzuch, it begins nearly 900 miles east.
The Hoffman Estates native was set to roughly trace the route the Stanley Cup followed after the decisive Game 6 when he flew from Boston after work Thursday to Chicago for Friday's rally. Despite an 11 p.m. arrival Thursday, he intends to get up early to get a prime seat.
"It's part of the city's history, and I just want to be there," said Kedzuch, who moved to Massachusetts about a year ago and was at the Hawks' 2010 Stanley Cup rally.
The borders of Blackhawks Nation are vast, and Hawks fans from around the region -- and the country -- have planned their pilgrimages to see the Stanley Cup held aloft in Chicago. The Hawks' 2010 parade drew what officials estimated to be 2 million fans into downtown, more than any of the six similar rallies held in honor of each Bulls NBA title, or the 2005 White Sox World Series celebration. However, one former official this week estimated that the 2010 crowd was likely closer to a million people.
If this year's parade is anything like 2010's, it could attract swells of people who take off work -- or, cough cough, call in sick -- for a chance to celebrate, en masse, what some have called a miracle season.
Kedzuch watched Game 6 on Monday from a seat near the blue line in TD Garden, where the postgame mood was somber for all but the 1,000 or so Chicago fans in the Boston stadium after the Bruins' defeat. Kedzuch said he is looking forward to soaking up the afterglow among a few hundred thousand fanatics Friday.
"That last minute, 17 seconds (in Game 6) I can barely remember, just me jumping up and down so much I thought I was going to fall over the seats in front of me," said Kedzuch, 33.
"The Bruins fans were in such a state of shock they just kind of quietly shuffled out like zombies. ... I'm really looking forward to being back in Chicago."
Jeff Fallon is eager to be back as well. He's hoping to nab a spot on the standby list for a 6:25 a.m. flight out of San Diego to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on Friday morning. The flight would arrive at 11 a.m., about the time the rally is set to begin in Grant Park.
Fallon grew up playing hockey in the south suburbs and in leagues around the city until he moved to San Diego three years ago, about a month after the Hawks won the 2010 Cup. He watched almost every game of the Bruins series wearing a 2010 championship T-shirt at a San Diego bar that caters to Chicago expatriates.
"I've got to get back. I have to believe with the timing of this flight, that the grace of God will get me on the plane at 6:25," said Fallon, 42. If he misses that flight, he'll take another that arrives well after the rally starts.
"The flight at 9 gets in around 3 p.m., and I guess they might still be partying in Grant Park."
But most Hawks fans in the throngs along the parade route will have made far shorter journeys.
Mike Magers, 50, general manager of The Penalty Box Bar and Grill in Plainfield, plans to corral 150 Hawks fans onto three charter buses just after 7 a.m. Friday -- wearing matching T-shirts provided by the bar -- so they can ride in together from the southwest suburb.
"With the lockout this year and the season that they had, we've been packed from game one," Magers said. His buses were filled less than a day after he booked them. "This team is fan-oriented."
Cameron Herdt, 21, will take an Amtrak train from Milwaukee with his family and friends early Friday.
"I think this is when Chicago's at its best," Herdt said of the parade. "When everyone's there and celebrating their team."
Fans know that getting a good spot in Grant Park means arriving early.
Alexa Heinrich, 22, a Lincoln Park resident who has just a few miles to travel to the parade, said she's meeting about 20 of her Hawks-loving friends at the park before it even opens, about 6:30 a.m., with doughnuts and water in tow.
Heinrich and her friends watched the championship game at a bar before eventually making their way to O'Hare early Tuesday morning to welcome their Hawks home.
"If I get close enough to touch the Cup," Heinrich said, "that would make it for me."
Many fans long for an up-close gaze at Lord Stanley's chalice.
"Every hockey fans' dream is that their team will win the Stanley Cup," said Josh Holleb, 56, of Highland Park, "and then you get to see that holy grail. It's a neat trophy, each name is printed on there. ... There's a lot of hockey history there."
Holleb is taking the Metra into the city Friday morning with his 25-year-old son. They want to get into the rally -- something they missed in 2010.
"I mean, I've been going to Blackhawks games since I was 4," Holleb said. "The reason I want to be able to see these guys up-close and personal (is) I really think this is a great group of kids who play on this team. ... I want to be there to see what they have to say."
The chances of getting close to the players or the Cup are likely slim for most, but some fans say that isn't the point.
Sean Enos, 23, of Chicago, who organized a group on meetup.com for Blackhawks fans in the city, said Friday is all about mingling with a huge mass of fans who feel as passionately as he does.
"Even when I go to games, I know I'm not going to meet (any players) usually," Enos said. "The players get to know (at the rally) that there are more of us than could possibly fill any sports arena. They know that not only are there 22,000 people who come to every single Blackhawks game, but there's 2 million more who want to."
For Josh Ftacek, 34, who's driving from Bloomington with his older brother and two nephews, showing up to the parade is showing respect for the team.
"We want to say we appreciate you as much as you appreciate us," Ftacek said.
And as David Cheever, 43, of Lexington, said, no real Hawks fan would miss the parade because there's no guarantee when the next one will be.
"In 2010, it'd been 40-some years since the last championship," Cheever said. "We've been lucky to have lightening strike twice in four years, but you just don't know when it's going to come around again."
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