TAMPA, Fla. — It was almost one year ago when Tampa Bay Lightning national anthem singer Sonya Bryson-Kirksey was hospitalized with COVID-19 pneumonia for nearly two weeks. Wednesday, she's singing the "Star-Spangled Banner" for the Stanley Cup Final.
More than anything, Bryson-Kirksey said, she appreciates the Bolts fans and the community members who have encouraged her since last year when she was sick.
"The whole entire city coming out to say how they're praying for me, and they were hoping that I got better, that touched my soul," she said.
While she's originally from Greenville, South Carolina, Bryson-Kirksey said the Tampa Bay fans helped her feel like she had a family here in Florida.
Bryson-Kirksey returned to Amalie Arena to sing the national anthem at the start of the Lightning season in October 2021. She has become part of the Lightning team but still thinks of herself as a fan too. She enjoys bonding with other fans over the Bolts. She mentioned talking it up with fans about Lightning forwards Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov.
"Did they really hurt him? Are we going to have to go out on the ice and take care of business?"
Sonya said these are some of the fun conversations she has with Lightning fans.
The 20-year Air Force veteran said singing for the Bolts brings her joy. Many fans have seen her perform on TV and stop her to say how much they appreciate her performances and what positivity it brings their families.
"This is a way for me to bond with the people who live around me and bond with my city," Bryson-Kirksey said.
Moving from place to place during her military days didn't allow her that community connection.
Bryson-Kirksey said playoff hockey can give her vocal cords a workout, with home games every other day when the Lightning play at home. But it's not the Lightning alone, she said she also enjoys singing around town in her day-to-day life.
"So my voice is a little stretched right now, but we're gonna get there. we're gonna get there," she said.
Some say Bryson-Kirksey is the Lightning's lucky charm, but she has a lucky charm of her own: her Crocs.
She's been wearing them into the building, including for Monday's win. She wore them at the previous watch parties, too.
"[It's] my new little superstition," she said and explained how it makes her husband cringe.
You can catch Bryson-Kirksey singing at around 8 p.m. Wednesday at Amalie Arena (temporarily not in Crocs while she's on the ice) as the Tampa Bay Lightning take on the Colorado Avalanche in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Bolts have a chance to even the playing field as they trail the series, 2-1.