Before Blackhawks games at United Center in Chicago, Jim Cornelison delivers the national anthem. It’s a good thing the soloist has a booming, operatic voice because he’s competing with about 20,000 fans who are already roaring before his first note and don’t stop until he’s done.
“It’s electric. It’s awesome.”
Highland Park, Ill. resident Steve Lewis traveled to Boston for Game 4 of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday at TD Garden. For Lewis nothing tops the pre-game experience at United Center.
“The game starts when the anthem starts. It doesn’t start at the drop of the puck.”
Blackhawks fans first starting cheering through the whole anthem sometime in the 1980s. But the tradition was cemented at the 1991 NHL All-Star Game in the Hawks’ old home: Chicago Stadium. The first Gulf War had just begun and the crowd provided a patriotic cacophony behind then-soloist Wayne Messmer’s performance.
Today at each game, the team celebrates a few military service members and veterans who stand with Cornelison on the ice as he sings. It’s a touch Lombard, Ill. resident Wendy Miller enjoys.
“We honor them, I think, better than anyone else,” Miller said Wednesday before Game 4. “And some people say that they think it’s disrespectful, but they haven’t been there. They haven’t seen it or heard it. The roar that’s through that crowd is unbelievable.”
Bill Bolter disagrees.
“You gotta honor the song. You can do all your yelling once the song is over,” the Weymouth, Mass. resident said. “That’s the whole point of it. Honor the song, honor our country and do your yelling after the song is over.”
“I think he keeps it simple, puts a lot of emotion in it,” Bolter said. “He’s an icon in Boston. You couldn’t tell if it was the regular season or a Stanley Cup Final. He still sings it the same way. He puts his heart into it. He sings it the way it’s supposed to be sung.”
Rancourt even has fans who are more familiar with ‘O Canada.’ Daniel Devine lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia and roots for the Bruins. He says Rancourt’s performances are special to him.
“Look, we’re 100 percent Canadians, but there’s something about that song,” Devine said. “When you hear about stars bursting and you know, what they sing about … I couldn’t sing the song to you, but every time I hear it, it definitely it brings a little bit of emotion to my heart.”
Rancourt’s uniform is a classic black tuxedo, but he adds one flourish to his otherwise traditional approach: a fist pump at the end. Devine and other Bruins fans have come to take multiple pumps as a good omen.
“How many is he going to do tonight? How many is he going to do tonight? When he does two or three, it just drives us nuts,” Devine said.
On the night of April 15, the Blackhawks had a home game. The Boston Marathon bombings had happened that afternoon. The team held a moment of silence at United Center then the fans were especially loud as Jim Cornelison sang. Two nights later the Bruins played the first major sporting event in Boston after the attack. Rene Rancourt quickly turned his duties over to the crowd, which became a massive choir for the rest of the song.
The presentations are different, but the sentiments are quite the same.