Rain doesn't stop the reign for the Panthers, who celebrate their Stanley Cup with parade and rally

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Matthew Tkachuk was soaked. Such is life when you're out in an absolute downpour for a few hours. He did not seem to be bothered by this whatsoever.

And as the star Florida forward looked out at the crowd of people, tens of thousands of them, packed onto Fort Lauderdale Beach on Sunday afternoon for the Panthers' parade and celebration for winning the Stanley Cup, Tkachuk decided to offer a quick weather update.

“I heard it's 70 degrees and sunny in Edmonton,” Tkachuk said. “But they ain't got no Cup.”

Not even a torrential downpour — so bad that flood warnings were issued — accompanied by a huge lightning storm could stop the Panthers’ Stanley Cup celebration, one that the franchise had waited forever to have. The fans braved the storm, awaiting the champs' arrival on double-decker buses that took a beachfront route before stopping for a rally where the trophy was hoisted time and time again.

Panthers coach Paul Maurice — no stranger to profanity — dropped more than a few bleepable moments in his remarks. He also lauded the fire-rescue officials that worked the event and had to briefly treat one of his daughters, who Maurice said got hit in the head by a flying beer can. She was fine. “God bless 'em,” he said.

“In my wildest dreams I never would have thought I could see this,” Maurice said from the stage, thanking fans and players for making the Cup run possible. “Seriously. Understand this. Everybody that we love in this world is ... happy right now.”

Carter Verhaeghe was the player who got to initially bring the Cup onto the stage, Queen’s “We Are The Champions” blared and nobody minded how soaked they were, nobody minded that it was still raining. The Panthers were champs, after three decades of waiting. The title was won last Monday night, Florida beating Edmonton 2-1 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

“It’s incredible,” said goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who hopped off the bus with the Cup at one point and decided to walk it down the road for a bit as fans who lined the parade route — some since Saturday night — roared. “So many people came out to support us. For us to share this moment with the fans, it’s unbelievable.”

Bobrovsky had more to say later on stage, draped in a flag of his homeland, Russia. Several players from other countries paid similar tributes to their home nations. The Cup won't be accompanying Bobrovsky to Russia this summer; for the third straight year, in response to the invasion of Ukraine, the NHL isn't permitting the Cup to be taken to Russia or Belarus.

“In my first interview, they asked me why I came to Florida,” Bobrovsky said. “My answer was, ‘Because I want to win the Cup and I’m going to do it here.' And now here we are, five years later, celebrating the biggest victory for this franchise with you guys.”

The parade and the rally capped a first few days of celebration that included the following items, among others, going into the Stanley Cup at various times: beer, champagne, apple juice, no fewer than three human beings — all children of players — and a steaming dish of pasta topped with freshly grated cheese, a dinner that Panthers legend Roberto Luongo proudly enjoyed.

“I can’t put this into words,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said as he surveyed the parade scene.

Panthers owner Vincent Viola danced on the stage as his wife Theresa captured the scenes on her phone. Tkachuk hopped off the route at one point to visit his favorite bar, Elbo Room, which just happened to be adjacent to the buses’ path. Players, one by one, all got their moment to hoist the Cup on stage. There was a campaign T-shirt some players wore — Maurice Zito 2024, a nod to Maurice and president of hockey operations Bill Zito, who masterminded the Cup run. Other fans had a similar shirt — Barkov Tkachuk 2024, a nod to Florida’s stars.

And as if the crowd needed more encouragement, a shirtless Panthers forward Nick Cousins ran over to the fans at one point, chugged a beer in celebration and punched the air.

“This is awesome,” Zito said.

Defenseman Aaron Ekblad got a moment of revenge on golfer Brooks Koepka, who showed up at a Panthers game last season and compared Ekblad to a traffic cone. Ekblad grabbed such a cone on Sunday, and let Koepka know — rather colorfully — that he was getting the last laugh.

“It feels like a culmination of your life’s effort, everything you’ve ever worked for,” Ekblad said. “When you get that trophy over your head, it’s a beautiful feeling. And it’s the pinnacle of hockey. It’s everything you could possibly imagine.”


AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL