TAMPA, Fla. — Office workers in button-down shirts and ties rubbed elbows with teenagers wearing championship jerseys as thousands of fans lined downtown streets at lunchtime Wednesday, celebrating the Tampa Bay Lightning's Stanley Cup victory.
Lightning players, coaches and staff paraded through city streets in a motorcade, joined by city and county officials. Team captain Dave Andreychuk was the last player in line, hoisting the Stanley Cup high in the air as the crowd roared. His car was surrounded by law enforcement officers and tailed closely by a tactical response team vehicle resembling a navy blue tank.
Brad Richards, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' most valuable player, also held his award up high before the rally moved inside the team's home arena.
Tampa police Capt. Bob Guidara said there were an estimated 20,000 along the parade route and 13,000 inside the forum.
Tampa Bay, an unlikely hockey hotbed, beat the Calgary Flames in seven games, wrapping up the title with a 2-1 victory Monday.
As the Lightning players paraded through downtown, celebrating fans waved placards and pennants.
Ann Ebert of Tampa waved a large blue Lightning flag during the parade. The 50-year-old said she's been a Lightning fan since 1994, and attended the Lightning's first playoff games two years later, when they lost to Philadelphia.
When the Lightning took on the Flyers in this year's Eastern Conference finals, Ebert said she was nervous.
"Once we beat Philadelphia I knew we were going to win (the Stanley Cup)," she said.
As the parade wound down, fans streamed into the Lightning's home arena for a victory rally.
The crowd erupted in applause for goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, right wing Martin St. Louis and left wing Ruslan Fedotenko, whose two goals won Monday night's game.
General manager Jay Feaster told the thousands at the rally, "the 25 guys on this hockey team have the greatest heart and the greatest character and the greatest courage."
St. Louis joined the team four years ago when the Lightning were perennial also-rans.
"I never once thought we'd all be here (celebrating the Stanley Cup) when I first got here," he said.