Fans want Punjabi hockey broadcasts back

Cancelled NHL show credited for uniting South Asian families


Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi hosts interviewed in 2008 on CBC’s The Hour.



South Asian hockey fans are mobilizing again to try to save the Punjabi language broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada after the CBC cancelled the show last week.

A spokesman said CBC was unable to secure a sponsor to offset the production cost.

But fans of the weekly specialty cable TV show say it’s a cultural phenomenon that helps reconnect generations of Indo-Canadian families and tighten ties to Canada and the national sport.

Supporters on a 4,000-strong Facebook group devoted to the show are hoping the CBC relents.

“We want it back,” said Surrey student Jasmine Samra, adding even elderly family members get swept up in hockey fever.

“Bring back Hockey Night in Punjabi,” wrote Jaspreet Jessica Kaur Ghag on Facebook. “How is there a lack of support?”

Amarinder Singh, who co-hosts the program with Harnarayan Singh, said he’s getting 20 to 30 similar messages a day from viewers in the Lower Mainland, many of them from Surrey.

“We have a huge following in Surrey,” he said. “I think it had a lot to do with the Canucks in the finals last year.”

Many South Asian fans joined spontaneous street celebrations in Surrey and Abbotsford during the team’s Stanley Cup playoff run. Hundreds of jersey-wearing, flag-waving Canucks’ fans – largely South Asian – would celebrate after games at the intersection of 72 Avenue and Scott Road.

Despite the crowds, Surrey gatherings remained peaceful, even after the team’s heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Boston Bruins, which sparked a full-on riot in downtown Vancouver.

Balwant Sanghera, president of the Punjabi Language Education Association, was part of a petition campaign that persuaded CBC executives to back down when they tried to scrap the show a year ago.

“I think it’s gone a long way in promoting national unity and national pride,” the Richmond resident said, adding he hopes the show is restored.

Besides introducing more Punjabi speakers to hockey, he said, it’s been a way for parents, grandparents and children to bond over a shared interest.

“It brings three generations together,” Sanghera said. “It’s extremely beneficial to the community and to the country as a whole.”

There are nearly 800,000 Punjabi speakers in Canada and it’s the most spoken language after English in cities such as Surrey and Abbotsford.

The CBC has indicated the Punjabi broadcast, which started as a test in 2008, could return during the playoffs.

And Singh said he’s optimistic a new sponsor will be found much sooner, putting the show back on the air within a couple of months.

That means Punjabi hockey fans could once again be hearing play-by-play calls like “mahriaa shot, keeta goal!” – the show’s translation of “he shoots, he scores.”

Hosts opted to use some English words where Punjabi equivalents don’t exist or don’t translate well.

There’s no Punjabi word for puck, for example, so they eventually settled on “tikki” – the word for a disk-shaped Indian potato appetizer.

And since “barf” is Punjabi for ice they’ve stuck with the English word instead of saying a player “barfed” the puck.

PHOTO: Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi co-hosts Harnarayan Singh (left) and Amarinder Singh (right) with Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry.