By Mary Wisniewski
(Reuters) - The streets and sidewalks of downtown Chicago were a sea of red Thursday as hundreds of thousands of fans streamed in for the victory parade and rally to celebrate the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup championship - the third for the National Hockey League team in six years.
Fans bunched up behind metal barricades, screaming "Go Hawks," blowing horns and holding up miniature versions of the silver cup - an hour before the Hawks' players were due to arrive in double-decker buses.
Fans said that they are not weary of the celebrations and had skipped work to come out despite the threat of thunderstorms. Some said this year's six-game victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning was even better than the 2010 and 2013 championships, because it was a tougher road through the regular season and finals.
"The fact that it wasn't as easy as the last two, it made it even more special," said Greg Halac, 27, of McHenry, in a jersey honoring retired defenseman Chris Chelios.
An official crowd count for the rally and parade was not available from city officials as of 9:30 a.m. CDT but city spokeswoman Melissa Stratton said officials could easily predict hundreds of thousands. Two million attended the 2013 rally.
The rally this year will be held in Soldier Field, the home of the Chicago Bears. Previous celebrations had been held in Grant Park, but this year days of heavy rains led officials to switch the venue to protect the park's grass.
The more than 61,000 free spots at Soldier Field offered on the Internet disappeared within minutes on Wednesday.
Kaitlyn Biesiada of Chicago wasn't able to get a ticket herself but got one from a friend.
"Being only 19 and going to two Stanley Cup rallies - that's a pretty awesome experience," she said, snapping cellphone pictures with her red-shirted girlfriends on the region's rapid transit system.
Chicago is known as a big sports town but championships can be rare. The White Sox baseball team last won it all in 2005, the Bulls basketball team in 1998, the Bears football team in 1985. No one beats the dismal record of baseball's Cubs, which last won the World Series in 1908.
With that history, the success of the Blackhawks is that much sweeter, fans say.
"At least we have one good team," said Roy Peterson, 27.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Bill Trott)