, , , , ,

How much does Harnarayan Singh love hockey?

“My wife and I had our wedding at a hockey arena and we had a ceremonial face-off between her and I,” Singh told me recently. “Life-sized Stanley Cup cake, mini-hockey sticks with out names engraved for everyone, we had hockey cards of ourselves and the stats were cool. My wife was “Rookie of the Year” because it was her first year teaching. It was a hoot.”

Hockey is as big a part of Singh as his Sikh faith and Canadian heritage. He combines them all when he gets behind the mic and calls games for  “Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi Edition,” the sister broadcast to “Hockey Night in Canada.”

Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi Edition announcer Harnarayan Singh, right, with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

His classic call of the game-winning goal by then-Pittsburgh Penguins forward Nick Bonino in Game 1 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final made him a social media sensation and catapulted “Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi Edition” into the mainstream.

Singh isn’t an overnight sensation. He’s been calling games in Punjabi – Canada’s third-most spoken language behind English and French –  since 2008 as part of “Hockey Night in Canada’s” effort to develop a more diverse audience.

You can hear Singh converse about his career, growing up Sikh in Canada, and the impact of “Hockey Night’s” Punjabi broadcast on the nation’s South Asian community in the latest episode of the Color of Hockey podcast.

Singh has achieved what many people thought he couldn’t: to become a prominent face of  hockey while speaking Punjabi and wearing the turban and ample beard that signifies his heritage and faith.

“If this could happen to me, a guy from Brooks, Alberta, a small town in southern Alberta, and with how I look and with people telling me it was impossible, if my dream could come true, why can’t it for anyone else?” he said.

Still, Singh says he occasionally hears from viewers who challenge the need for a hockey broadcast beyond English or French.

“You do get these sorts of comments where a person, I think, might not understand where  we’re coming from and why we’re doing this,” he said. “But when you explain to them how this is benefiting the sport of hockey and how beneficial this is to grow the sport of hockey, I think some of those perspectives can be changed.”

Singh says he and his “Hockey Night” Punjabi crew bring the masala – a spiciness – to their broadcast that reflects their South Asian roots and connects with their audience.

And they’ve had to be creative to do it as several hockey words and phrases don’t translate in Punjabi. So Singh made up his own, including the popular “chapared shot,” using the Punjabi word for slap in the face to describe a slap shot.

The Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi Edition commentators. Left to right, Randip Janda, Harnarayan Singh, Harpreet Pandher, and Bhupinder Hundal.

“The Punjabi community, they love to laugh, they love their food, they love their music, they wear vibrant colors, they talk loud,” Singh told me. “We try to incorporate those community characteristics on our calls and have fun with it.”

In doing so, Singh and his crew are helping members of Canada’s growing South Asian community weave themselves into the fabric of the country. Hockey is, after all, as Canadian as it gets.

Indians make up nearly 4 percent of Canada’s overall population and Sikhs account for less than 1.5 percent of the population. Canada has the world’s second-largest Sikh population outside of India with over 455,000 with most of them living in British Columbia and the Toronto area.

“When we first began the show I don’t think anyone could have even imagine the impact it would have on the community,” he told me. “First and foremost, I think it made the community feel proud of themselves that they had made it as a part of Canadian society.

“There’s also been some cool stories from people who say that at their workplace, having hockey in Punjabi and understanding the sport, has helped develop better relationships and rapport at work,” he added. “They’re able to talk about last night’s game. I mean, hockey is that water cooler topic in Canada.”

Follow the Color of Hockey on Facebook and Twitter @ColorOfHockey. Download the Color of Hockey podcast at iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and Google Play.