By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com Staff Reporter Follow @mary_paoletti
BOSTON -- The yellow charter buses blared their arrival to the TD Garden parking lot. The lead driver laid on the horn, grinning like a Cheshire cat as he steered Boston's most precious passenger to a safe stop.
The Stanley Cup, returned to the Hub after 39 years.
Bruins fans were already waiting. Whether in suits or sundresses, hundreds gathered to welcome their winning warriors home and catch a glimpse of hockey's sacred mug.
Captain Zdeno Chara held the trophy in his arms. The hulking blueliner carried the Cup off the bus, stepping off behind Shawn Thornton and raising it high above his head. A smile spread over Chara's face and he bit down on his bottom lip as though trying to hold back his heart from jumping out of his throat. The cheering throng surged as he walked around the bus unprompted to show them, to share it, let them touch it, so they could be certain it wasn't all a dream.
"He's bigger in person!" one fan marveled. "And so is the Cup."
Rookie Tyler Seguin stumbled out into the crowd, black pinstripe blazer over his white Stanley Cup championship t-shirt. He wore the matching hat backwards, slightly off kilter and unintentionally so. Seguin looked exhausted, drunk on champagne and joy.
"How does this sound: Tyler Seguin, Stanley Cup champion?" a reporter asked.
He rubbed his eyes with one hand as a slow smile spread across his face. "It feels amazing."
Tuukka Rask wandered over and he and Seguin slung arms across each other's shoulders. Seguin put a hand affectionately to Rask's head, where Nathan Horton's helmet sat (also askew), unclasped.
"I can't describe it," Seguin said. "It was a dream come true." His voice was softened by sleeplessness.
Shawn Thornton, trademark aviators on, was more brisk in his answers. When asked what he would do during his day with the Cup, he didn't hesitate. "Who knows? Haven't thought about it." And he was gone.
Three Bruins piled into a Boston police car for a ride home. As the squad vehicle slowly rolled through the crowd, the trio raised their hands in celebration through the backseat bars. The crowd returned the salute. They were tired, too, but equally unconcerned.
"I couldn't sleep last night," one man said from within his foam bear head. "I tried for half-an-hour, then figured I'd better just be here."
Others claimed to have not slept for two days. Adrenaline raised their arms in the air in wild wave. A well-worn sign, "WE WANT THE CUP" scrawled across the top, had gotten some happy editing. Gone was the wanting, struck through with a fat black line; in its stead was simple satisfaction: "WE GOT THE CUP."
The man in the bear head gushed over the generosity of Andrew Ference. The defenseman had pulled his car as close to the mob as he could, if only to share the happiness beaming from his face. It was a small gesture that had huge significance.
"We had our own personal reasons for wanting to win the Cup," Ference said. "But we wanted to win it for the city, to finish off the quad; the other teams have done their job."
Bruins president Cam Neely also addressed his new membership into Title Town.
"It is our turn and it is sweet. It is so sweet," he said. "I know the passion that our fans have and I know how excited they are."
"Absolutely, baby!" the fans roared back.
Neely's statement to the fans was marvelous. He skated for Boston during a Cup-less decade in the '80s and '90s. Neely's Bruins won three division championships, two Eastern Conference crowns and one Presidents Trophy. He knew how badly their stomachs ached with hunger because he had felt it himself. When Neely spoke on Thursday, the diplomatic and professional walls were toppled and naked pride was revealed.
"Cam, I named my son after you, Boss," a faceless fan yelled. "I really did."
Neely raises his fist in reply, then stuck up his thumb.
"You guys waited a long time for this and the fans certainly deserve this," he said. "We got the best fans in the league. The support that you guys showed our players . . . it was a privilege to play in front of the fans. We're thrilled to bring this back to Boston and have this rolling rally Saturday morning, 11 o'clock. It's going to be quite an experience for everybody.
"I just want to thank our fan base for all the support for all these years. It's really hard to say how you feel right now, but it's incredible. All I can tell you is I'm very happy."
Neely's smile was effervescent. He scanned the crowd, soaked it in. Then he pumped his fist another time.
Ference was also at a loss. He said the reaction was delayed, that the discipline of executing a successful Stanley Cup title run didn't allow for instant emotional release.
"Part of the reason we were successful is because we blocked out our emotions very well, so it takes a while to sink in," Ference said. "I didn't want to believe it until there was about 10 seconds left on the clock and then I started crying. I just couldn't believe it. "
"When we actually got to hold the Cup . . . it's surreal. You block your emotions out for so long it's hard to come back to reality. It started to sink in. Once we passed it around on the plane and got it in the locker room and partied with our families, drank from it . . . "
Ference looked up to the news helicopters hovering vigilantly overhead like dragonflies on a lake at dusk.
He smiled. "It's sinking in."