Less than a day after beating the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 in Game 7 of the finals, the Hurricanes took a victory lap around the RBC Center before taking the stage to thank about 30,000 fans who waited through a hot June afternoon to greet the first post-lockout NHL champions.
"You guys helped us to win this," said captain Rod Brind'Amour, a 17-year veteran who was one of several Hurricanes to finally win the Cup after years of falling short. "At the start of the year, we wanted to make you proud of this hockey team, and I think we did that."
It was the team's second trip to the finals since the former Hartford Whalers moved south in 1997. But unlike a five-game loss to Detroit four years ago, the Hurricanes took the final step by holding off a determined Oilers squad in front of a rowdy home crowd Monday night to end an intense and dramatic series.
That prompted Tuesday's parade carrying players through a cheering crowd of "Caniacs" clad in red, white and black. Assistant captain Glen Wesley held the silver Stanley Cup aloft as children in his truck pitched foam pucks into the crowd like they were medallions tossed from a Mardi Gras float.
Other fans waited to hear their hometown heroes trumpet victory on stage, where a band warmed up a crowd at the end of a 90-degree day. Long lines formed for beer and smoothies, while better prepared fans brought coolers and kicked back under the few shady spots.
"They call it a nontraditional hockey market, but there's all those people out there screaming in the heat," said defenseman Aaron Ward. "So maybe by the standards of temperature we're not a hockey market, but we've got some enthusiasm out there."
Bill Murphy, 44, of Raleigh, wore his red Hurricanes sweater and took pride in the life-size replica of the Cup he spent hours building out of cardboard, tape and aluminum foil. He said he engineered the model using specifications he found on the Internet, attaching it to the trunk of his Honda Accord two days ago.
A New York transplant and an Islanders fan his entire life, he wanted his son 8-year-old Brendan to experience his adopted city's celebration.
"There's so much history in that Cup," Murphy said. "Some people think it's just a trophy, but it's a way of life for hockey fans."
Bob Cadran, 55, of Apex, sat on a folding chair under a tree's shade and sported his new Hurricanes championship baseball cap. The former Massachusetts resident compared the day's thrill to his beloved Boston Red Sox recovering from a 3-0 deficit in the 2004 American League Championship Series and beating the New York Yankees before winning a World Series for the first time since 1918.
"This is heaven. I called my mom and said this was better than the Red Sox winning four straight from the Yankees and winning the series. This is our home team," Cadran said.
Fans lined up at The Eye -- the Hurricane's merchandise store at the RBC Center -- at 8 a.m., two hours before the store opened. Some had been there only a few hours earlier, lingering into the wee hours to celebrate Carolina's 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers in Monday night's Game 7.
Others drove up in cars adorned with Carolina Hurricanes magnets and flags, made their purchases and left. Many said they'd be back in the afternoon for the victory party and parade.
Store workers raced unsuccessfully to keep up with customers who stripped the shelves of any item that referred to the Stanley Cup title.
"I got large, medium, double-X gray Cup shirts!" one employee called out as a co-worker broke open a box of fresh supplies.
Merchandising manager Monique McAdams estimated 3,500 people had come into the store in the first 90 minutes it was open.
"We can't get the merchandise out fast enough," she said as she tallied up one fan's purchases and thrust the bills into a pocketed apron.
Parking lots opened at 4 p.m. for the victory celebration, and festivities began at 5 p.m. with the band Fantasy.
The first 18,000 fans at the Stanley Cup celebration received a commemorative pint glass courtesy of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and the first 20,000 fans received a champion card courtesy of Progress Energy.
Tuesday night's party took on a movie-star, red-carpet atmosphere as the players -- some stopping to give high-fives -- left the parade vehicles and walked by waving, cheering fans toward the stage.
"I didn't know what to expect," said defenseman Mike Commodore. "I didn't know how many people would show up, but there's a lot of people here. People are excited and it's great. I'm glad they appreciate and everybody enjoys what we did."
Carolina coach Peter Laviolette, who capped a season in which he also coached the U.S. Olympic team, first thanked the fans for their support. Then, he thanked the players who brought home the Cup.
"You guys played your hearts out and it was never more evident than last night," he said. "That was the best game that we ever played. We needed that, you delivered it and because of it, we got that thing right here."
Gov. Mike Easley offered encouragement, declaring Tuesday "Carolina Hurricanes Day" statewide and asking fans to wear red, white and black in honor of the only one of North Carolina's three major league teams to win a championship. North Carolina lawmakers planned to invite the team to their legislative chambers Wednesday, after an afternoon parade that will start at St. Mary's School on St. Mary's Street and make its way east down Hillsborough Street.
A brief program will then be held on a stage at Salisbury and Hillsborough streets near the state Capitol.