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How Harnarayan Singh's hockey obsession shaped his life in small-town Canada

Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi announcer’s new memoir explores his childhood and the challenges of his career

The voice behind Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi says his love of the game is what moulded him into a patriotic Sikh Canadian while he was growing up in small-town Alberta.

Harnarayan Singh became a household name in the Canadian hockey world with his energetic, over-the-top commentary of Pittsburgh Penguins forward Nick Bonino's playoff goal against the Washington Capitals in 2016.

And his show has been groundbreaking. Singh was the first person to call the play-by-play of NHL games in Punjabi, and also became the first Sikh to take part in an English-language NHL broadcast.

He chronicles his journey from childhood hockey diehard to real-life NHL commentator in his new memoir, One Game at a Time: My Journey from Small-Town Alberta to Hockey's Biggest Stage.

Singh spoke with The Current's Matt Galloway about his new book and the challenges he's faced in his career. Here is part of their conversation...

...My passion and obsession for hockey, when I reflect back, that's what really helped me create a rapport and friendship with classmates and teachers. And I would actually say that my entire experience growing up as such a patriotic Canadian would have been totally and completely different had it not been for the game of hockey.

A lot of this book in some ways is a bit like kind of the history of the Sikh community in Canada. Why did you want to do that?

I have so much respect for my parents, their generation and past generations who went through so much for a person like me to be even sitting here today. They had to go through the rough time. They had to go through the major racism and try to fight for opportunities.

When I learned that my great grandfather came to Canada in 1987, for me that was revolutionary as a young Canadian, because … when I was hearing racist comments ... I had something that I could say back to them.

I could say that I'm just as Canadian as you, and that was literal proof ... just the fact that my parents came here and they were able to maintain their heritage and their faith, despite all the challenges.

What were the barriers that were placed in front of you in getting to the place that you're in right now?

Kids get asked all the time: What do you want to be when you grow up? And if you say a hockey commentator and you have a turban and it's the 80s, it's the '90s, you might get a laughing response instead of encouragement right away. And I did receive that from other professionals, from some teachers and even people within the CBC. 

It was a cautionary tale from their end, because they didn't want me to be disappointed, and they wanted me to go for something they felt that I would actually have a shot at. And that would be encouraging me to go behind the scenes for [the] production side or  in news and not sports...

...I think the NHL is taking this seriously and sometimes it's better late than never.

I know you do a lot of speaking. What do kids ask you when they meet you?

First of all, it's this curiosity of like, how is it to be at the arena? How is it to be with the players? Or a lot of times if they're Punjabi kids, they will ask me specifically about something I've said on the air.

But my message to them is always encouraging in this sense that if I can do it, you can do it. So make sure whatever your goal and dream is, you go for it. Because we're so lucky to be in a country that we have those opportunities in front of us. 

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