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Song in her heart, Hulk at her side

Not everything goes to plan for the Lightning Tuesday, but a wrestler's daughter hits the right notes.

TOM ZUCCO
Published May 27, 2004

TAMPA - Lemme tell ya brother, the Hulk was mad.

He had forgotten his 16-year-old daughter's earpiece monitors back in Miami at their last gig. Now, at this very moment, she was somewhere inside the St. Pete Times Forum cavorting with Aaron Carter, younger brother of Backstreet Boys singer Nick Carter.

"That's got me all worked up," wrestling icon Hulk Hogan said as he paced in a tunnel under the stands. "Who knows what's going on."

In exactly 19 minutes, Brooke Bollea, the Hulk's daughter, would walk onto the rink and sing the Canadian and American national anthems to start Tuesday's opening game of the Stanley Cup finals between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flames.

And unless the monitors arrived, she would face one of a singer's worst nightmares: not being able to hear her own voice.

She had performed the anthems nearly a dozen times before Lightning regular season and playoff games. She and her father, with his pregame shirt-ripping act, have been anointed the tanned, supersized good luck charms of the team. (She's 5 foot 11, he's 6 foot 7.) The Lightning had lost only once when she sang.

But she'd never performed before a game of this magnitude, with a national TV audience - and all those potential Brooke Bollea fans - looking in.

With encouragement from her parents, Bollea is positioning herself to fill the teen star void created when Britney Spears: a) was caught smoking; b) kissed Madonna; c) got old, relatively speaking.

Bollea's first CD will be released June 8, and she's working with Orlando boy band promoter Lou Pearlman ('N Sync, O-Town, Backstreet Boys) to saturate radio stations and perhaps make it to the promised land that is MTV.

The Lightning first asked Bollea to sing the Star-Spangled Banner for the season opener, liked what they heard and asked her back. Like others who sing the song, she receives no paycheck, but gets two free tickets to the game.

No, her mother said, the opportunity probably wouldn't have occurred had her father been an auto mechanic.

"Just another celebrity's kid," said Linda Bollea, waiting inside the Times Forum with her husband. "People can think that if they want. But she's a really talented girl who worked very hard for this. We can open the door for her, yes.

"But she has to walk through and face the music."

And sing said music.

But without those earpieces, who knew what she could do. The monitors allow performers to hear what they're singing and stay on pitch. It wouldn't be much of an issue if she were singing in the Performing Arts Center or Ruth Eckerd Hall. But the Times Forum is built primarily for sporting events, not concerts.

And dad was the one who had left those crucial earpieces behind in Miami.

"If she doesn't do it tonight," the Hulk said, "it'll all be on me."

And so he waited. The Hulk as worried dad.

His clothes - brown cargo pants, white muscle shirt and sneakers - said mid 20s. But his face, lined by years in the spotlight and in the sun, said middle-aged. He will, after all, be 51 in August.

But Terry Bollea, a.k.a. Hulk Hogan, Robinson High graduate and Belleair resident, still has one of the most recognized faces in America. And if he likes the Lightning, the Lightning like him.

"My 13-year-old son played for the Tampa Bay Junior Lightning," he said. "And if hockey was around when I was a kid, I would've played. Might have gone pretty far, too.

"But things worked out pretty well."

Until now.

And then Brooke Bollea hurried up to her father. She was right on time, 15 minutes before faceoff, in low-rider jeans, silver chain belt, sandals and a Lecavalier T-shirt knotted at her waist. Somewhere, Kate Smith was spinning in her grave.

She slipped into a closet off a crowded dressing room, flipped opened her compact and went to work.

"I was in Orlando this morning, flew to Miami to do a radio show, flew here, and tonight I'm going back to Orlando," she said. "It's not boring."

Satisfied with what she saw in the tiny mirror, she faced a shelf of cleaning products and began to practice the Star-Spangled Banner.

"It's a difficult song," she said. "And this is a huge night for me. But the energy here is just amazing. I'll be fine."

In the meantime, the Hulk grabbed some scissors and began to prepare the Lightning T-shirt he would later rip off in front of the crowd.

"The earpieces are 12 miles away," he said miserably.

When his daughter emerged and mingled with Lightning employees in the dressing room, a small group of young men formed around her. Her father walked in and smiled. The young men smiled back and quickly found something else to do.

Then the Hulk slung his daughter's white purse over his shoulder, and the two of them headed toward the tunnel.

The earpieces, he told her, would not arrive in time.

"Holy c---!" she gasped. "There's no way?"

"No. But you're cool. Just knock 'em dead like you always do."

His daughter took a deep breath. Although she'd practiced it a thousand times, she started singing O Canada again.

Performers often put their own stamp on a national anthem. Jimi Hendrix played a searing version of the Star-Spangled Banner to close Woodstock. And then there was Roseanne Barr's 1990 rendition before a San Diego Padres baseball game, the now infamous Star-Mangled Banner.

"I told Brooke to sing it straight, with respect," the Hulk said. "If she puts any twist on it, I'll come out and body slam her to the ice."

But as his daughter stood waiting for player introductions to end, the Hulk peeked through an opening in the curtain and again, smiled.

A spotlight on her, Brooke Bollea was introduced. She waved, put a finger in her left ear, and began. Players and 21,674 fans watched, riveted.

She didn't miss a note, and when she reached the final verse of the Star-Spangled Banner, her father, with former Lightning GM and NHL Hall of Famer Phil Esposito at his side, were wheeled to the edge of the ice on a cart.

As soon as the song ended, off came dad's shirt.

In the tunnel afterward, Brooke Bollea huddled with several girlfriends. Aaron was calling on the cell phone.

"That was so hard to do," she said later, "But I said a prayer and got through it, and everybody seemed to like it."

And then the Hulk, who had found a fully intact T-shirt to wear, walked up and hugged his daughter.

"They're a wonderful tandem for us," said Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett. "She's got a charisma, charm and voice that attracts everybody in the building."

What she can't do is win hockey games. Calgary would beat the Lightning Tuesday, thus tarnishing the Hogan/Bollea charm.

But Brooke Bollea, with ear monitors this time, will be back to try again tonight in Game 2.

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