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Job pumps him up

Rancourt still hitting high notes

The song may remain the same, but Rene Rancourt never fails to get pumped when performing the national anthem. The song may remain the same, but Rene Rancourt never fails to get pumped when performing the national anthem. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Emily Wright
Globe Correspondent / June 7, 2011

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In 1976, Rene Rancourt had no idea where Boston Garden was; now TD Garden is his second home.

The fist-pumping, saluting national anthem singer has been a part of Bruins pregame ceremonies for 35 years, and at 71 he continues to rouse sellout crowds.

When he was asked by legendary Boston Garden and Fenway Park organist John Kiley if he’d ever be interested in singing the anthem(s) at Bruins games, Rancourt replied, “Of course!“ But then he had to ask, “Where do they play?’’ and “How do I get there?’’ According to Rancourt, Kiley answered simply, “Take the train to North Station and you’ll figure it out from there.’’

A 1968 graduate of Boston University’s School of Music and 1969 graduate of the Boston Conservatory, Rancourt first sang the national anthem for the Red Sox in 1971, which was where he built the relationship with Kiley that would change his life.

“[The Bruins] only asked me to sing one game, but I’ve been there for 35 years,’’ Rancourt said. “And they can’t get rid of me.’’

“By osmosis, I certainly became an avid hockey fan. I’m trying not to be too avid because if I get too stressed out I won’t be able to sing. I have to treat it like any other game.’’

Keeping his emotions in check becomes more difficult in the playoffs.

“[My passion] for the Bruins works against me because of nerves,’’ Rancourt said. “Now I’m much more involved. It’s much more difficult to sing.’’

Rancourt traditionally gives himself three hours of prep time before singing at TD Garden, using hot tea and honey, transcendental meditation, and silence to preserve his voice.

“I approach [“The Star-Spangled Banner’’] like an athletic event because it’s so low and so high,’’ Rancourt said. “I also equate the national anthem to a 3-point shot in basketball, where nobody knows if it’s going in.’’

Rancourt has hit his shots for the last 35 years, and in the last 15 has added a tuxedo, a fist pump, and a salute.

“One Opening Day I decided I was going to rent white tie and tails, top hat and all,’’ Rancourt said. “That sort of brought the idea that I should sort of dress formally.’’

With five tuxedos hanging in his closet and 62 ties, Rancourt has many wardrobe combinations, but for last night’s Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final he planned to break out his “special’’ gold tie, which he had worn only three or four times.

Bruins fans have Randy Burridge’s patented “Stump pump’’ to thank for Rancourt’s signature fist pump at the end of his performance.

“When [Burridge] scored he used to fist pump, the fiery little pump of his arm,’’ Rancourt said. “He was a little guy like me, like 5-7. I sort of related to his fiery nature.

“People expect me to, even when I make an appearance at a wedding or even a bar mitzvah, I have to do my Rene pump. I admit that I stole it, but oh, whatever.’’

The salute also has special significance.

“I received a call once from what appeared to be an elderly lady and she said that she was paying a lot of money for cable just to hear me sing the anthem, and when I’m through singing she changed the channel,’’ Rancourt said. “And I said, ‘From now on my dear, I’ll salute you.’ ’’

Rancourt doesn’t plan to call it quits for at least five more years.

To the dozens of people who come up to him on the street and start singing, “O, Canada,’’ or “Oh, say can you see,’’ he will continue to reply, “Don’t quit your day job,’’ as he makes his way to the arena he loves.

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