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Stu Cowan: Harnarayan Singh bringing a breath of fresh air to Hockey Night in Canada

Harnarayan Singh is a play-by-play announcer for NHL on Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi Edition.
Harnarayan Singh is a play-by-play announcer for NHL on Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi Edition.

On Saturday night in Edmonton, Jeff Petry, Tomas Tatar and Carey Price were the three stars on the ice for the Canadiens as they beat the Oilers 5-1.

Off the ice, the first star was Harnarayan Singh, the play-by-play announcer for Sportsnet’s TV coverage of the game.

Since 2008, Singh has called more than 700 games on Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi Edition. But this was only the second NHL game he has called in English after making his debut in last Wednesday’s season-opening matchup between the Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.

Singh is the first Sikh broadcaster to call an NHL game, and his crisp, clear voice was a breath of fresh air Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada, bringing some fun and unique sayings, including “it’s time to hand out the sweets” after a goal and calling the penalty box “the box of punishment.”

Singh’s most famous call in Punjabi came in Game 3 of the 2016 Stanley Cup final after Nick Bonino scored the winning goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins against the San Jose Sharks.

“Bonino, Bonino, Bonino, Bonino, Bonino, Bonino, Bonino, Bonino, Bonino, Bonino … Nick Boninoooooooooooo!” Singh screamed.

After the Penguins won the series, they invited Singh to attend their Stanley Cup championship celebration in Pittsburgh and had him repeat his Bonino call for the fans.

Singh’s parents immigrated to Canada from India in the 1960s and he was born in Wetaskiwin, Alta., just outside Edmonton. His earliest hockey memory was getting a mini hockey stick as a young child and he became a huge Wayne Gretzky fan. His parents also bought him a toy microphone so he could practise doing play-by-play while watching games on TV.

“Since I was four years old, through my elementary school years, the obsession with hockey was pretty unrivalled among my classmates,” Singh said during a phone interview Monday. “I even got a message the other day from someone who I went to school with remembering how I was always wearing (hockey) jerseys all the time and my hockey card collection and trying to make every single assignment and project in school about hockey.”

Singh said he knew from a young age that he wanted to become a hockey play-by-play commentator, but was told often that a person who looks like him, wearing a turban, wouldn’t have a place on TV in sports media. While studying broadcasting at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Singh said some professors and professionals in the industry would tell him he should go into production because he was smart with good grades. He was also told if he ever got a shot at an on-air position it might be in news, but definitely not sports.

Singh admits that placed a seed of doubt in his mind and hurt his confidence, but he didn’t give up.

While Singh has had a long love affair with hockey, the sport didn’t always love him back.

“When I reflect back, a lot of the racism I experienced that was blunt was within the world of hockey,” he said. “There’s a whole list of slurs that I can name off to you that I was called within just hockey arenas.

“I would say what kept me going is a few different things. For sure my faith. It’s something when I look back in the history of my faith, people had to go through a lot. So I just told myself this is nothing in comparison to what others had to go through. And then family support — my parents, my sister and eventually my wife, they’re the type of people who have dropped everything to help me out and I’ve had a lot of support from them. And then the third thing I would say is mentorship. People like Ron MacLean and Kelly Hrudey in the industry who have been encouraging and been able to help out.”


Now Singh hopes he can inspire others. He has written a book, One Game at a Time: My Journey from Small-town Alberta to Hockey’s Biggest Stage , and in 2018 he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal by the Governor General for his contributions to Canadian society.

“It’s so important for kids to see people who resemble themselves and their communities because it gives them hope and it opens the door for them to realize that they have a place as well,” he said. “We need the sport of hockey to grow and expand and it’s not just in terms of people playing it. It’s in terms of fans and there’s so many different roles you can have within the sport and the broadcast side is one of those.

“Just allowing others to feel more comfortable in their own skin because they see someone who’s different, who looks different, doing something I love and making it to a level that’s pretty rare,” he added. “I hope I can inspire others to be proud of who they are and that you can maintain heritage and still achieve your dreams — and that’s what makes Canada so great.”

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