Bruins raise Stanley Cup banner in emotional return

By Ros Krasny

BOSTON (Reuters) - The Boston Bruins opened their National Hockey League (NHL) season on Thursday with a noisy, emotional ceremony to mark their 2011 Stanley Cup victory.

The team and its diehard fans have barely come off the high that followed June's Stanley Cup win over the Vancouver Canucks in a decisive seventh game that clinched the franchise's first championship since 1972.

Before getting back to business against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2011-12 season opener, Boston had some unfinished business -- raising their new championship banner to the TD Garden rafters.

"We've waited long enough. The wait is over. Let's get this damn thing up!" exclaimed team owner Jeremy Jacobs.

The bright yellow banner now hangs next to five others won by the Bruins, dating to 1929, and 17 green and white banners marking the championships won by the National Basketball Association's Boston Celtics, which shares the arena.

"They did it with skill, they did it with courage, and they did it with grit. Thanks guys," said Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli.

Veterans from the 1972 winning team, including Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, helped form an honor guard as the banner was carried from center ice to the spot from where it was elevated to the rafters.

Throughout the playoff run, Boston players lauded their long-suffering fans with the emotional support that helped lift them to victory. That was the case again on Thursday.

"We want to thank you for everything you did for us. All the support. Most of all, for believing in us," said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. "As a team we really feel you guys won it with us."

The team also paid tribute to Mark Recchi, the 22-year NHL veteran who retired after the team's championship. Recchi was in uniform on Thursday, looking ready for a 23rd season.

Cam Neely, another former Bruins Hall of Famer and now president of the club, fired up the raucous crowd: "It was an amazing, amazing run. Let's say we do it again now!"

The famed Stanley Cup was ferried to the stadium on Thursday atop a Boston fire truck, then carried into the building under an honor guard of crossed hockey sticks.

Before the banner-raising, each player got to hold the Cup aloft on the ice one more time.

(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Frank Pingue)