Hockey’s seasoned Punjabi broadcasters savour Stanley Cup party as busy Saturdays return

Surrey's Bhupinder Hundal reflects on adventures in Pittsburgh last spring

Pittsburgh Penguins legend Mario Lemieux (middle) with the “Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi Edition” broadcasters (from left) Randip Janda

SURREY — After a spring of celebration and summer of contemplation, Bhupinder Hundal is looking forward to a fall of calling hockey games again.

The Surrey resident is a member of the “Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi Edition” broadcasting crew, which starts a new 48-game season on Saturday night (Oct. 15).

Hundal and his hockey-calling colleagues are still wrapping their heads around the fame they enjoyed during the NHL playoffs last May and June.

In the Stanley Cup-winning city of Pittsburgh, the four were feted with the level of excitement they bring to their Punjabi-language broadcasts.

It was all because a rapid-fire call of a game-winning goal, scored by the Penguins’ Nick Bonino, went “viral” on social media. “Bonino! Bonino! Bonino!” play-by-play man Harnarayan Singh yelled repeatedly, 10 times in all.

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The high-energy burst of words made celebrities of the crew, especially in Pittsburgh, to which they flew for the Stanley Cup party.

“It really was unbelievable there,” Hundal said, “because you can get a sense of the buzz through social media, but it’s a whole different experience when you’re actually there, in the middle of all that, and you see it firsthand.”

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PICTURED: Bhupinder Hundal with hockey fans in Pittsburgh last spring. Submitted photo

People scrambled for “selfies” with the crew and generally treated them like hockey royalty.

“I’ll give you an example,” Hundal recalled. “We flew from Vancouver to Chicago and from there to Pittsburgh, that’s where we connected, and we got in the plane in Chicago and it seemed that pretty much everybody on that plane knew who we were. They were telling us, ‘You have no idea how big this is, everybody knows who you are. They’ve been playing your goal calls on radio and TV, nonstop.’  So we get off the airplane and we’re walking out of the airport and I happened to check our Twitter feed. And a notification popped up and there’s a picture of us, of our backs, walking out of the airport and someone tweeted out, ‘Oh my god, they’re here!’…. Everybody was super-friendly and stopped us on the streets to say hi, take photos with us, all that. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before in my life.”

Upon reflection, Hundal said the whole experience opened eyes and ears, too.

Pittsburgh has very few people of South Asian descent, he said, and even fewer who speak Punjabi.

“I heard stories from people who said they knew nothing about who Sikhs were, what the language of Punjabi is, but after all that, they learned, they started to know about it, and not only that, embrace people who look different from them,” Hundal told the Now.

“And that was great to hear, that it was almost an education for some people. You know, hockey was a common thing that we all know and love and enjoy, and it created this special kind of bond. It’s kind of ironic that in a country where there’s so much political debate around identity, there was this city where four brown-skinned folks, two of them wearing turbans and beards, standing on a stage with the Stanley Cup champions and a half a million people are cheering.”

Hundal, who grew up in Port Alberni and moved to Surrey in Grade 9, never played ice hockey. Instead, like many of his friends, he played ball hockey, and learned to love the broadcasting side of the sport. Today, he runs a PR and media-consulting business, called CrossConnect Media Consulting Inc., when he’s not broadcasting games.

Every Saturday during the NHL regular season, he and others on the crew, which includes Randip Janda and Harpreet Pandher, gather at Vancouver’s CITY-TV studio to call the action for OMNI.

“We’re doing doubleheaders, two in a row every Saturday,” Hundal said. “That is unusual for a broadcast crew, and it’s also very difficult. Not only are we planning for one game, we’re planning for two, and obviously managing our voices for that long becomes a challenge.”

And with so much energy brought to the broadcasts, viewers tend to enjoy the hockey-mad intensity, no matter what language, or languages, they understand.

“Our goal is to make Saturday nights fun for people, so whether you like hockey or not, whether you even like the games or not, or even whether you like Punjabi or not, we just want to make it fun for those who sit down in front of their TV. That’s what our focus is. If we’re having fun then people at home tend to be having fun.”

tom.zillich@thenownewspaper.com

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