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NHL broadcaster Harnarayan Singh discusses his childhood dream, breaking down barriers, and whether the Oilers can bounce back

Metro News logo Metro News 2018-07-06 Kieran Leavitt - StarMetro Edmonton

a man standing at a train station: Harnarayan Singh was the first broadcaster to call NHL games in Punjabi before becoming the first Sikh to broadcast in English on Hockey Night in Canada. © Codie McLachlan Harnarayan Singh was the first broadcaster to call NHL games in Punjabi before becoming the first Sikh to broadcast in English on Hockey Night in Canada.

EDMONTON—When Harnarayan Singh made his debut calling NHL games 10 years ago, he became the first person to broadcast pro hockey in Punjabi and has helped introduce a whole new audience to the sport along the way.

On Thursday, Singh was alongside other prominent sports personalities to discuss barriers in hockey through their own personal stories during a hockey conference at the University of Alberta.

Singh told his tale to a packed auditorium.

His dream of being a hockey broadcaster, like industry titans Ron MacLean and Bob Cole, began when he was a kid. He would watch games with his family and provide play-by-play commentary, much to the chagrin of his family, who were living in Brooks, Alta.

The small town wasn’t exactly diverse and Singh knew going to school wearing his turban and silver bracelet everyday that kids looked at him differently.

Even though his dream never died while attending Mount Royal University broadcasting school and working part-time at a local radio station, people —even some of his professors — told him he’d never make it.

“When you turn on the TV, does anybody look like you?” He recalled a doctor once asking him

Fast-forward to 2008 and Singh had landed a spot with CBC providing Punjabi commentary for NHL games on Hockey Night in Canada. He’s been broadcasting the Saturday night primetime spectacle in Punjabi ever since.

In 2016, he made his English-language broadcasting debut during a Calgary Flames-Toronto Maple Leafs game. Another highlight was one of his goal calls during the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs — a tally by the Penguins’ Nick Bonino — that went viral and skyrocketed him to online fame.

After his talk, Singh, who lives in Calgary, sat down with StarMetro for a Q and A. The questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Do you have to have a thick skin for what you do?

Yeah, and there’s different reasons for that. One is just because you’re different and you’re doing something new. in that sense, you’re fulfilling a position that is needed in the hockey world but you look so different doing it. You’re representing not just yourself, you’re representing your family, your community, your faith. Those are big things to have on your shoulders so when I’m standing there with a nervous excitement and hoping I do well, I’m hoping not just to pull it off for me, I’m hoping to pull it off for my colleagues and other aspiring students who are like me and wanting to make it.

I would say social media, sometimes if you start responding, it just becomes this vicious cycle. So you have to really pick and choose what are you going to respond to and try to understand where someone else is coming from and why they might be feeling that way. You know, I thought we made a lot of progress as a society but it seems like we still got a long way to go.

You’ve been a voice for inclusion in hockey … what are some of the barriers that we still need to break through? Also, women as broadcasters, is that something we still need to get to in professional high-level sports?

I was so happy this season to see Cassie Campbell-Pascall getting more games as a colour commentator. And Sportstnet also in women’s hockey, they did an all-women’s broadcast where the host, the play-by-play and the colour commentator were all women. How cool is that?

If they can continue to do more of that, but not just obviously have them on that side, I mean there’s so many accomplished women’s hockey players who could do not just as good of a job, but a better job. Why not have more women in these roles?

We also have to figure out a way to make the game more accessible to families and kids who just want to play it for the fun side. I think its become so organized, and we’re so focused on the streams to get to the next level and then eventually to be drafted into the junior leagues. But there’s less information out there for the average family, or the average parent, who says, “I just want my kid to be able to play hockey for the sake of participating in the sport or for fun.” How do we make that side more, not just accessible, but get that message out there that you can play this just for fun?

What’s the next step for you in your career?

I’m open to anything and I think with me, I never expected anything going into this. I just took it as it came and I always had hopes that I could someday be a part of it. But this journey has been, over the past 10 years, such a wild ride.

But I still get the nervous excitement every time we’re going to call a game. So It’s not anywhere close to been there, done that for me. I love being part of the game, I love being the voice of the game. Play-by-play is something that I’m passionate about and I hope to continue to make strides on the English side.

The goal call when Nick Bonino scored in the Stanley Cup final with Pittsburgh in 2016. What was that like for you? It got you worldwide attention.

I consider it a blessing, to be honest with you. That was so huge for the show, for my career. And it’s funny because I’ve chatted with Nick Bonino about it too and we just laugh. What else can you do, right?

He’s gonna carry it for the rest of his career. He’s told me he walks around places and people shout it out to him all the time, and you know, I’ve got it. Its like we’ve got this bond that will go for the rest of both our careers and it’s just so cool.

We got to go inside the Penguins’ dressing room when they were celebrating the Cup … we surprised the players. My colleagues and I walked in and surprised the players with the Bonino call. The Stanley Cup is there, the Conn Smythe is there, the conference trophy is there. And to have the coach come up and shake our hands and say that “You guys were a part of our Cup run and we were using your goal calls to amp up the players in our video session.”

I don’t think as a broadcaster you can be so close and you can’t ask for anything more.

What do you think about the Edmonton Oilers for next season?

I feel like it can’t be as bad as it was last year. You saw Connor McDavid at the NHL awards basically say to fans that ... he promised to be better. He’s a very determined individual.

In my opinion they can’t be as bad as they were last year, but I think that they still need to make some roster changes for them to be considered as a serious contender again.

Kieran Leavitt is an Edmonton-based reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @kieranleavitt

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