CHICAGO -- The Stanley Cup returned to Chicago for the first time in 49 years early Thursday, and its arrival along with the Blackhawks at O'Hare International Airport warranted a water cannon salute.
The Blackhawks ended the NHL's longest championship drought on Wednesday night in Philadelphia with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Flyers in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals. The team last won the trophy in 1961 by defeating Detroit, also in six games.
The Blackhawks brought the Cup home on a chartered Boeing 737 that taxied to a private terminal tucked on O'Hare's eastern edge at 3:55 a.m. local time. A pair of white Chicago Fire Department airport trucks blasted celebratory arcs of water over the jet as it came to a stop on the tarmac.
Meanwhile, lines of parked fire, police and emergency vehicles -- all with lights flashing and horns sounding -- framed the scene.
After the plane stopped, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews emerged from the forward door holding the Cup over his head and walked down the stairs. Followed by teammates, coaches and team officials, Toews marched into the terminal with the trophy, and briefly spoke to reporters and posed for photographers.
The Blackhawks then boarded buses for what appeared to be the rest of a long celebration.
"We're going to spend the night together as a team and follow each other around," Toews said.
"It's our way of getting the party started. We're happy to be here, back home in Chicago and we're going to show this (the Cup) off to our fans here," the 22-year-old centre added. "This is really going sink in as we come back here and share it with our fans."
And the atmosphere on the flight home?
"It was pretty loud in there," Toews said. "I'm sure the pilots were getting sick and tired of us."
Just a handful of people witnessed the spectacle, however, Police check points on access roads prevented fans from getting anywhere near the building.
Only airport workers, team officials and media were allowed to pass. The Blackhawks' official championship celebration is scheduled to take place downtown on Friday morning,
When the Blackhawks last won the Stanley Cup, in Detroit on April 16, 1961, their return via chartered plane was delayed by a spring snowstorm in Chicago.
After defeating the Red Wings to secure the 1961 championship, the Blackhawks went to Detroit Metro Airport to catch their flight. They waited in the terminal a couple of hours, but ended up returning to a downtown Detroit hotel to celebrate.
The team finally took off from Detroit late in the morning on April 17. After arriving at O'Hare, the 1961 Blackhawks were escorted to city hall for a reception hosted by late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley.
On Thursday the Blackhawks' plane arrived on schedule in calm weather, even though it was nearly a half-century since they last landed with the Cup.