The black Boston Bruins carpet was laid out in its familiar position, coming out of the Zamboni tunnel and draped across the TD Garden floor where a new sheet of ice will rest in less than two months. A single spotlight shone on the Spoked-B at the end of the carpet, waiting for the next Boston Bruins National Anthem singer to assume his or her position, just as Rene Rancourt did for 41 years.
Instead of the usual raucous that comes with a packed house of 17,565, the building was silent save for a quiet murmur coming from section 14. There sat 52 hopefuls with their friends and families, anxiously awaiting their turn in the spotlight.
The candidates exchanged warm smiles and encouraging remarks, understanding that there was a breadth of talent surrounding them. The people invited to perform were chosen from over 600 applicants.
The Bruins expect only the best to follow in the footsteps of Garden legend Rancourt. The Maine-native's crowd-rising fist pumps were a staple at Bruins home games since the 1975-76 season, leaving a significant void in his absence.
"Rene is a legend," said candidate Shanna Jackman. "It's hard to imagine anyone could fill his shoes, but to be able to connect with Bruins fans just as much as he did would just be really an honor."
Jackman has worked as a 9-1-1 dispatcher for more than 14 years and has filled in for Rancourt in past seasons. The Douglas, MA native, who performed passionate renditions of the Canadian and American anthems at the tryouts Wednesday night, has also performed the anthem at Fenway, for Celtics games and at NASCAR's Sprint Cup in New Hampshire.
"There's a lot of excitement around being here and for the Bruins," said Jackman. "The Bruins take a lot of pride in the anthem, so it's exciting to just meet people and see friends here."
The other 51 singers boasted equally impressive backgrounds, unique life experiences and musical skills.
Michelle Brooks-Thompson was a finalist on "The Voice" and delivered a powerful and moving anthem. Todd Angilly is a classically trained tenor who works at TD Garden as an event-day employee. Tim Leahy, a Bruins platinum season ticket holder, relished his chance to audition.
Also amongst the group was a strong contingent of talented children, including 14-year-old Laurel Fallis and 16-year-old Nicole Talbot. Both girls performed the anthem at home games last season and jumped at the opportunity to do something close to their hearts once more.
"The National Anthem is so important to my family," said Fallis. "My dad is a Veteran [of the Marine Corps], and I've always been taught how important the meaning of the song is."
Talbot's rendition was complemented by the sparkly black and gold dress she wore for the occasion, but her passion is what really stood out.
"For me, I get nervous right before I go on," said Talbot, "but singing has been my passion for so long. It's almost like my happy place, no matter where [I am], so I just get into my element."
The Beverly native performed at the Bruins' Hockey is for Everyone night this February and is a visible advocate for transgender equality in Massachusetts and across the U.S.
As the evening wrapped up, all of the candidates left with positive spirits and nothing but praise for their peers, which Talbot summarized perfectly.
"Everybody was incredible."