- Associated Press - Friday, June 28, 2013

CHICAGO (AP) - Ditching work and painting their faces red and black, thousands of Blackhawks fans noisily swept into downtown Chicago on Friday for a parade and rally to fete the Stanley Cup champions and catch a glimpse of the bar-hopping silver trophy.

Hours before the parade was set to begin, crowds jammed entrances to the rally site in Grant Park along Lake Michigan. Some die-hard fans camped out overnight, ready to sprint to the big stage at the front of the park the minute police swung barriers aside at the entrance.

Fans came with faces painted in team colors. Others were hauling around knock-off versions of the silver Stanley Cup, including one fashioned _ appropriately _ out of an empty beer keg.

Twenty-somethings Courtney Baldwin and Meghan O’Kane, from the city’s suburbs, made theirs out of a jumble of jugs and plastic bowls slapped together and painted grey. Early in the morning, it was not yet full of frothy beverage.

“It will be this afternoon,” Baldwin said.

The Blackhawks gave the city something to celebrate as the Cubs and White Sox grind through another lost summer and after the Bears failed to make the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.

And fans took note.

“We love the Blackhawks. This is history and this is a championship, unlike the Cubs,” O’Kane said, taking a shot at a team that hasn’t won a World Series since 1908.

For the Blackhawks, it was the second time they have brought the Stanley Cup home in three years.

This year’s victory, a 3-2 win over the Bruins Monday night, was a dramatic one. Trailing Boston until the final minutes, Chicago scored twice in a stunning 17 seconds. Delirious fans bolted out of bars to celebrate in the streets. Car horns blared.

The party roared overnight and into the next day as the team returned from Boston and, making good on an NHL tradition, toted the Cup around bars and restaurants to the delight of onlookers and fans who tried to keep up.

Sarah Schmidt, 22, who grew up in Chicago and made the pilgrimage to Friday’s celebrations from Milwaukee, telling her boss she was taking the day off no matter what and hoping she would still have her bar tending job when the party is over.

“I can’t miss this,” she said.