ATB is welcoming a new ambassador: Harnarayan Singh of Hockey Night In Canada: Punjabi. Read all about how Singh grew up in small-town Alberta and his journey to national television.
You could say it was written in the stars for Harnarayan Singh to make it to Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC). He knew he wanted to be a hockey commentator at the ripe old age of four.
“I used to emulate the broadcasters. I had a whole imaginary world of my own fictitious players where I would act out as the players, but I would be the coach, the GM, and then I would also do the media and everything,” explained Singh from his home office. Behind him on the mantle next to trophies and other memorabilia is a toy microphone his parents gave him to bring his broadcasts to life.
“All these seeds were being planted in that from a very young age. I knew that's what I wanted. I've had this Grade 6 project where I had to do an autobiography and in that I wrote I want to be a hockey commentator,” said Singh.
"We spoke Punjabi at home. We listened to completely different music. I looked completely different. There were just so many obvious and blunt differences. I had to try to find a way to connect and to fit in."
Singh’s family moved to Alberta from India in the 60s. He was born in Wetaskiwin and raised in Brooks, where the Singhs were the only Sikh family. It wasn’t always easy. He had to field many questions about his culture, religion, food and his turban.
"We spoke Punjabi at home. We listened to completely different music. I looked completely different. There were just so many obvious and blunt differences," said Singh. "I had to try to find a way to connect and to fit in."
This is where hockey comes in. Singh was obsessed with hockey, and to be honest, the 80s to mid-90s was a great time to be a hockey fan in Alberta.
"The Flames and the Oilers were the best teams in the league. And the Battle of Alberta was huge. When you have the best player ever to put on a pair of skates, Wayne Gretzky, it was hard not to escape it," said Singh.
Singh explains that hockey became the bridge between him and his classmates. Last night’s game became the next day’s topic of conversation at school, and Singh could insert himself with ease.
“It helped my classmates think of me as normal when I talked about hockey or when I was exuberant or passionate about it or wearing hockey jerseys to school,” said Singh. “I just became known as this hockey obsessed guy. Some of those boys were bigger and stronger than me and normally wouldn't be cordial to a Brown kid with a turban. They ended up being nice to me just because of hockey.”
When Singh was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, his answer never wavered—not even when met with negativity.
“It was met with sarcasm or laughter or ‘no, what do you really want to be?’ I’d hear, ‘You gotta be realistic. There’s no one who looks like you on TV at all,’” said Singh. “We weren't using words like diversity or inclusion.”
One of Singh’s friends in high school worked at the local radio station and invited him to visit, knowing his keen interest in sports. The pair began doing a segment twice a week, and that's when Singh said the lightbulb came on.
“I thought if these guys are willing to give me a shot in this small town, where I'm the only one like this, then someone might give me a chance down the road, too.”
By chance, Singh met Kelly Hrudey, former NHL goalie, at a charity golf tournament, and the two got to talking.
“He gave me the opposite answer as to what other people I knew personally were giving me. He told me to go for it. It was really heartwarming to hear that from someone who was so big in the industry,” said Singh.
Singh applied to broadcasting school at Mount Royal in Calgary, knowing that the program fed into a TSN scholarship and internship program. He was chosen among eight students from across the country for the coveted internship in Toronto, which led him to a spot at CBC radio in Calgary when finished.
Around this time, CBC had been experimenting with broadcasting hockey in different languages and wanted to try Punjabi. Hrudey remembered an enthusiastic and hockey-obsessed Singh in Calgary.
In an unbelievable turn of events, the pilot broadcast for Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi was the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals.
“Because it was the first time ice hockey was going to be broadcast in Punjabi, I had come prepared with lists and lists of every single phrase and word that you could think of that was used in hockey with the Punjabi equivalent,” Singh said with a laugh.
“There was just the nervous excitement of it all. Like, I can't believe it and you didn't know what to expect, but really quickly we found out so many people in the community across Canada were so excited about it and they loved it.”
Like his efforts in his school days in Brooks, Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi has bridged a gap between two cultures.
“People are just really proud of what the show means. It's helped grow the game. There are so many families who've put their kids in hockey and become fans of the sport through the show. It's bringing people together. You have the grandparents able to participate in hockey because they can understand the language. So you end up having three generations watching together,” Singh said.
Now, almost 14 years later and over 700 hockey games called, Singh looks back and points out the story has come full circle.
“When I grew up, people were saying there was no one that resembled my community on TV. And now we get that. We see women. We see people talking about hockey in different languages. Diversity!”
Singh’s sights are permanently on the English side of HNIC now, having called a few games at the national level next to his childhood idol Ron MacLean already. With each game called, hockey is heightened even more in his home. Now married with two children (Hrudey performed a ceremonial puck drop at the wedding, naturally), even Singh’s kids are hockey obsessed.
“They might even be more obsessed. It's crazy. When they're playing at home with their mini sticks on the driveway, my kids are doing commentary as they play,” laughs Sigh. Yes, they have a toy microphone too.
In light of success on a national level, it would be easy to assume Singh moved to Vancouver or Toronto for work. In fact, he lives in Chestermere and loves Alberta. That’s why a partnership with ATB Financial makes the most sense to him.
"I wear being an Albertan on my sleeve," said Singh. "The amount of time I'm going up to the QE II between Calgary and Edmonton for hockey, it's just the perfect fit.”
Singh loved how ATB is in so many communities across the province. He can’t wait to bring his love of hockey to even more Albertans together with ATB.
Read more about Harnarayan Singh on his website where you can order a copy of his recently published autobiography. And keep and eye out on ATB’s social media for a chance to interact with him in the near future.