BOSTON — Rene Rancourt, like he has done so many times, walked onto the TD Garden ice to sing the Canadian and American national anthems before Wednesday night’s game between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.
But this night had a different feel. The emotion of the crowd, and Rancourt himself, clearly was heightened.
That’s because the legendary national anthem singer will retire at the end of the season, the B’s announced Wednesday. Rancourt has been singing the “Star-Spangled Banner” and “O Canada” before Bruins games for more than 40 years, and he’s become a staple of not only the B’s culture, but also the community as well.
“It’s great, you’re walking down the street, you’re deep in thought, and you hear ‘O Canada,’ and I’ll say ‘don’t quit your day job now.’ It’s wonderful,” Rancourt said between the first and second periods of the Bruins’ 4-1 win over the Canadiens.
“The fan reaction — they take their hockey very, very seriously. It took me a while to learn that fact, but it became ingrained. Now, every time I sing the anthem, and it’s almost the last time, I imagine it’s for the last time, and I try to prepare as much as possible.”
Interestingly, Rancourt never would have imagined he’d become a legend singing the anthems before a hockey game, but it was a performance at Fenway Park that created an opportunity.
“I would never have gone to a hockey game. I was an opera singer, I was at Boston University, way deep into opera and Boston Conservatory,” Rancourt said. “I never would think to go to a hockey game, ‘what is that?’ But I sang at Fenway Park one day and the organist there, the famous organist John Kiley, said ‘can you sing for the Bruins?’ I said ‘where do they play?’ (He said) ‘you know, North Station.’ When I saw the fan reaction, it was a far cry from the grand old opera, I’ll tell you. It was unbelievable, and I said ‘these are my people.'”
Rancourt has sung before a lot of memorable games, including many Stanley Cup Final matchups, but one of them clearly sticks out above the rest — the first game after the Boston Marathon bombing, when the B’s hosted the Buffalo Sabres on April 17, 2013.
“Nothing comes close to that,” Rancourt admitted. “The marathon bombing game, where the Bruins just happened to be the only professional sports team playing right after it. I think it was two days after. I was petrified to get out there. I planned, of course, to stop singing in the middle of it, but I was very, very afraid of doing that. The reaction was something I will never, ever forget. That’s my proudest memory.”
For what’s next, Rancourt said in retirement he’ll do “as little as possible.” After a legendary career, he’s earned plenty of rest and relaxation.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports
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