Many fans, bleary eyed from staying up the night before to watch Game 6, looked to the skies for TV news helicopters that would alert them they were on the right track. Others set themselves up at bars, hoping the rumours from friends or Twitter might turn out to be true.
"We've been packed since 7 this morning." said Brad Tice, general manager of The Pony on Chicago's North Side. "In 2010 (the last time the Blackhawks won the cup) it came here, and players hang out here and live in the neighbourhood, so everyone is hoping it will show up."
In suburban Oak Brook, fans descended on a restaurant said to be a favourite spot of Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. By midafternoon, the cup hadn't shown up at either spot.
The trophy that turns into a drinking buddy once it is awarded to the National Hockey League champions had already put in a pretty full day. Though it hadn't made it to the runway of a strip club or the bottom of a swimming pool — just two of the many places that players have taken it over the years — it did make the rounds, stopping at two restaurants and the United Center, where the Blackhawks play, and a downtown steakhouse.
"I'm shaking, that was so cool," said 21-year-old Anne Fernandez after she reached out and touched the cup as Blackhawks President and CEO John McDonough pulled it out of a black SUV in front of Phil Stefani's restaurant and held it aloft as so many players had on the ice in Boston the night before after their series-clinching win over the Bruins.
Fernandez showed up after a rumour showed up on Twitter, while others got their tips from friends — though nobody knew where this intelligence was coming from.
"I got an email that said if I wanted to see the cup to be at 437 (the address of the steakhouse) in 15 minutes," said Carrie Williams, a 28-year-old magazine editor, who did not know how the emailer got that information.
At about 4 a.m., the jet carrying the players and the Cup touched down at O'Hare International Airport, where they received a water cannon salute from about a dozen fire trucks and police cars, all with their lights flashing.
Veteran forward Michal Handzus was the first player to emerge from the aircraft shortly after 4 a.m., hoisting the 35-pound cup above his head with both hands and shaking it several times. Guests, police officers and firemen cheered at the bottom of the stairs. Players, coaches and team officials mingled with the crowd for about 10 minutes before heading for the city to continue the party that began in Chicago shortly after the team stunned Boston by scoring twice in a 17-second span during the final 1:16 of the game.
There was a stop at a Harry Caray's restaurant in Rosemont — the same first stop the Blackhawks made after winning the championship in 2010. There were more than 1,000 fans waiting, and players took turns hoisting the cup over their heads to screams of excitement.
The Scout bar in the South Loop area of downtown was the next stop, as team members greeted cheering fans outside with high-fives before filing into the bar.
"My (5-year-old) son stayed up to watch the game but I told him he could go over there if it was packed and we looked outside and it was packed so we went," said Ekta Joshi after she and her son, Kabir, went over to cheer the players. Because she and her husband know people who work there, she was one of the lucky few to be allowed inside, where they met some players and the coach.
"He got a few autographs on his hat and I'm sure he's showing it off at school now," Joshi said.
After that stop, the cup made it out to the United Center. There were rumours that it was on the move and, in fact, McDonough's driver at the steakhouse said earlier in the day when he drove off — without the cup — he saw in his rearview mirror TV news trucks that obviously thought he had it.
Freelance writer Matt Carlson contributed to this report.