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Sunday Long Read

Bruins anthem singer pours right notes doubling as TD Garden bartender

Angilly embraces hectic pregame schedule in succeeding Rancourt

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

BOSTON -- The bar on the fifth floor of TD Garden is quiet at 4:42 p.m. on a Tuesday. Two people set up food at the buffet. Two others put out citrus slices on the counter. Two minutes later -- a touch later than he intended -- Todd Angilly sweeps through, a plastic dry-cleaning bag on one arm, smiling, greeting his coworkers.

The rink behind them is empty of the thousands of fans who will start arriving soon, ahead of the game between the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs that evening. But Angilly, like fellow bartenders Ed Catan and Darrell Williams, is already hard at work, loading beer cans into the silver chest behind the bar.

His first customer, a 14-year-old, walks up just after 5 p.m., asking for a ginger ale.

"You want that on the rocks?" Angilly asks with a smile, to the slight consternation of the teen.

This has been Angilly's life for the past seven years, working in this bar after he gets off his day job as a probation officer in Essex County, an area north of Boston that includes his home in Lynnfield. For many of those years, he was anonymous, just another person popping the top on a Coors Light, another bartender fixing a gin and tonic.

Until, that is, he opened his mouth.

Angilly, who trained at the New England Conservatory, was never assertive about jumping in line as a fill-in anthem singer until five or six years ago. He would do maybe a game per season, but didn't make an impact, not with legendary singer Rene Rancourt garnering most of the attention. That changed on Nov. 2, 2017, when he was tending bar, and pressed into action as a last-second substitute for a missing anthem singer -- the bartender-to-the-rescue narrative raising his profile to his regulars and the fanbase in general. 

After Rancourt retired in April 2018, Angilly got tabbed to sing 16 more times last season as part of a rotating group during the 2018-19 season.

But now the gig is all his; the 44-year-old was named the official anthem singer for the Bruins before the start of the season.

Fortunately for Angilly, it's nothing if not convenient.

****

Especially on that fateful day in November two years ago.

It was starting to get busy that afternoon, the customers streaming in, game-time nearing.

"It's getting louder, I'm getting louder," he said. "Doing our thing. All of a sudden, I hear this woman screaming my name. Todd! Todd! I look over and she's got two security guys with her and she's got the headset on, the clipboard, and she's going, 'You've got to sing! You've got to sing!' And I turn around and I look at the game clock and it says 6:45. The game's at 7."

There was no time to explain. He needed to get downstairs. A jersey appeared from the Pro Shop. Too small for the sizable Angilly.  

A Bruins jacket was ripped off the back of a maintenance worker -- "All I can smell is oil and gas and dirt and garbage," Angilly said -- as they handed him the microphone and pushed him out onto the ice.

"I come off the ice and I'm like, 'Can anybody tell me what just happened?'" he said.

He jumped back into the elevator, ran back to the fifth floor. He was back behind the bar with the first period underway. His customers were as stunned as he was.

Now, though, there is a routine. Angilly arrives around 4:30, taking the train down from Salem, and hangs his suit and tie in a closet by the door to the SportsDeck, one of six premium club seat locations at TD Garden. He joins his coworkers, all of whom have worked there for years, and endures the calls of "Todd-arotti," the jabs about his celebrity, the gentle mocking from people who have danced around him behind a bar for longer than most of the Bruins have played together.

By 5:30, the regulars have started to appear, and with them, the hugs.

"Let me know if his head gets too big to fit behind the bar," one cracks.

Things are slow this early in the night, on a Tuesday. There is plenty of time to take photos with those who ask, plenty of time to show off pictures of his two kids, to tell a story of his son making sure to sing the anthem before playing a game of hockey recently.

He is still filling drink orders at 6:28, still in his faded black shirt and the name tag with no name on it, still running a credit card at 6:30, as the horn sounds and the players take the ice for warmups. He grabs two beers, mixes some bourbon and ginger ale, hands over a 25-ounce beer.

At 6:32, he gets his black suit out of the closet, and runs through the doors to the private SportsDeck. There's a men's room just outside on the concourse and it's there that he has his Superman moment, donning his recognizable get-up and turning from tender to tenor.

It takes him just five minutes.

Now in "uniform," he sweeps back in, getting a thumbs up from a customer at the bar, a hug from a waitress. He does not seem in a rush, and he is rewarded when he catches the elevator as the door is about to close, a rarity for him or anyone at TD Garden. He used to be able to leave later, but in a sign of his rising profile, he now leaves a little extra time to account for those who might stop him or want to take a picture or just say hello. He cannot be late, after all, and wants to be accommodating.

He reaches the third floor in time to see Bruins defenseman John Moore -- injured and not in the lineup -- arriving for the game. Moore walks over to congratulate Angilly, to shake his hand. This part has all been a surprise, the popularity, the greetings, the bookings, the full calendar.

"I just didn't expect it," he said. "Rene was 43 years. I just rolled in amongst other singers and then it just started. It started right around during the playoffs. I started getting calls."

Football games and bike week. Rhode Island and Connecticut. Corporate events and camps for kids with special needs.

"You see the reaction, and it's like, wow, all I'm doing is coming in here and singing a song that I've sung a million times, and it's having this effect on these kids," Angilly said. "I've totally committed to those people -- you've got a fundraiser or anything you think would be appropriate, just tell me where to be."

He tries to say yes as much as possible, though it has gotten him in trouble when he double-booked himself this summer, saved only by the intervention of a state trooper and an action movie-level escort from Warrior Ice Arena to an area high school. Most of gigs, though, are far tamer. Like tonight.

He warms up. He stands alone, off to the side, clearly a little thrown off because he's been talking more than usual ahead of this game. He shuffles, one foot to the other, one foot to the other. The fill-in announcer says his name, mispronouncing it as "Ann-gee-lee" instead of the smoother "An-gel-ee."

He sings the Canadian anthem. He sings the American anthem. He brings down the house.
It's 7:08, and he's off to the elevator.

But on this night, as on all Bruins game nights, his work has just begun.

****

When Angilly gets back to the fifth floor, the scene repeats itself in reverse, after he's waited in line to get back into the SportsDeck, behind the paying customers handing over their tickets. It's back to the closet to get his bartender gear, back to the bathroom to change into it, back behind the bar, as "Good job" and "Congrats on the permanent gig" and "Well done," rain down around him.

"I think people relate to it," he said. "They're amazed that I go back to work. 'You're going back to work?' I'm like, yeah. People need drinks. Let's go. They'll say, 'That's so Boston. Blue collar. Lunch pail. Boston.' I feel like we're all in this together."

At 7:17, he is back at his post, just as a lull hits. The game has started. The attendees have beers in hand. There is hockey to watch. He has missed most of the rush. His fellow bartenders have needed to be understanding, and they have been.

Angilly has been working at TD Garden during Celtics and Bruins games and for events and concerts since 1999, when he was in graduate school at the New England Conservatory and he needed something to do in the winter, after working at Fenway Park in the summer. He was directed toward what was then known as the FleetCenter, starting in the suite kitchens on the sixth floor.

"I was doing auditions for opera companies and programs, things like that," he said. "Never really could break in. My school loans started to get high."

The brother of his then-girlfriend, now-wife was a probation officer. He said they had openings.

He moved out of the kitchens once he got his job in probation and needed his days free, dropping the summer baseball gig in 2002. They all have day jobs here, with Catan working with the developmentally disabled and Williams in mental health. For Angilly, it's been 12 years as a probation officer, working specifically with offender employment, trying to facilitate jobs for those on his roster.

"I love dealing with people," Angilly said. "It's got a lot of downs, but it's got a lot of ups too. You're helping people out. … We're not just saying, 'Go get a job,' we're actually delving into their skills and interests and identifying what's the best placement for them, so that way we can ensure they retain employment. The whole idea is if they're working, they're less likely to recidivate."

He had originally planned to become an elementary school teacher, to go back home to Rhode Island with all his old football buddies from Warwick Veterans Memorial High School. 

Everyone -- save Angilly -- followed through.

"I let everybody down," he joked.

Instead, he supervises high-risk offenders out of Superior Court in Essex County, people who have committed felonies. That includes home visits and field visits as he helps them fulfill the orders set out by the court. He prepares them to go out into the workforce, to stay in the workforce, to find "meaningful employment with retention."

And then, instead of heading home, he journeys into the city, to TD Garden and his second shift.

"Best fans in the League. Best job ever," Angilly said. "The pessimist part of me is like, wait for the bottom to fall. Something's going to happen. I'm going to fall down the stairs or something."

****

On a post behind the bar are two framed photographs. The black-framed one is a standard size, an autographed photo of Rancourt pumping his fist on a Bruins-logoed carpet on the Garden ice. The other is tiny, a thumbnail, the person reduced to the size of Rancourt's torso. That, of course, is Angilly, microphone raised, singing the anthem.

They appeared one day. Angilly does not know who put them there.

He has never met Rancourt, his predecessor with the long shadow, but has reached out. 

Angilly would love to sit down with the retired anthem singer, to share a cup of coffee, to pick his brain.

"Just 20 minutes," he said. "I'll buy him lunch. I'd like to hear his stories. Maybe he's got some regrets, something he'd do differently, if he looked back, and maybe I can learn from that."

Rancourt's are big shoes to fill. Angilly wants to forge his own path, though, to make his own traditions, to leave the fist pumps that punctuated the end of Rancourt's renditions behind and find his way. He has started by punctuating his anthems with points, to Garden organist Ron Poster, to acknowledge and thank him, to the crowd, and to his bar. 

He knows there will always be fans who miss Rancourt. Forty-three years is a long time.

"What I like a lot is when someone says, 'I really loved Rene,' but you're doing awesome," Angilly said. "I think we, collectively, are just set in our ways and all of a sudden you're going to shake it all up."

But he is working his way into the hearts of fans. He had career moments last spring when the Bruins made it to the Stanley Cup Final, as he got the chance to kick off a Game 7, in the process forming a friendship with now-retired St. Louis Blues anthem singer Charles Glenn, who he hopes to bring to TD Garden for a game this season.

"You're part of something special. That's history," Angilly said, of singing before Game 7, with wonder. "I'm in Wikipedia for that!"

The final horn sounds. The game is over, a 4-2 win for the Bruins, which makes the crowd filtering out a happy one. Angilly, Catan and Williams have started cleaning up, moving straws and napkins and mixers off the bar to wipe it down. The last tab is closed out; cranberry juice containers are consolidated.

He will arrive home around midnight, coming off the MBTA's orange line and into the night. By morning, 8 a.m., he will be back at his post as a probation officer, finding jobs for others that fit them, that fit their personalities and their interests and their skills.

For himself, he seems to have found just the gig.

"Somebody could say, well, I dreamed of being this big star," Angilly said, as "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" by the Dropkick Murphys plays in the background. "But I think in its own unique way, this is perfect. I could never have imagined being the official anthem singer.

"Even when I say it now, I get this chill. It's such an honor, responsibility. Magical. It's everything to me. And so when you're walking around, people are stopping you, now that you're the singer, I feel like I have a responsibility. Not that I'm part of the team, but I'm part of something. That's special."

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