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Photo Credit: PHOTO BY CHARLES LECLAIRE-USA TODAY SPORTS

One Game at a Time

“Bonino, Bonino, Bonino, Bonino . . .” It’s rare, indeed, for a young broadcaster to have a signature call like Nick Bonino’s goal from the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs on his resume so early in his career behind the microphone, but for Harnarayan Singh, it was a moment that was decades in the making.

Long before that memorable call, years before Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi came along in 2008, Singh was belting out play-by-play into a dummy microphone as a Sikh kid growing up in Brooks, Alberta. Back then, Singh announced his passion for the game to anybody within earshot, even if not everybody wanted or was ready to hear it.

Having just wrapped up a stint inside Edmonton’s bubble for the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, Singh has chronicled every step along the way since he fell in love with the game thanks, in large part, to Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers, in the book, “One Game At a Time,” released last September. Today, when we talk about inclusion and diversity in the game of hockey, Singh is the poster boy for what’s possible.

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Singh spent some time with Bryn Griffiths and I this morning on our Outsiders podcast talking about his rather unlikely and inspiring journey from those early days growing up in small town Alberta — and the obstacles he encountered along the way — that landed him where he is today. You can find the entire interview here.

WHAT HE SAID

Some excerpts of our conversation:

“To be able to tell the story of when my parents came to Canada, the struggle and the trials and tribulations they had to go through. My own childhood, growing up in a small town and being able to tell the story that hockey was literally the ice-breaker for me with my classmates and I. Being so different with how I looked, the food we ate, the language we spoke, the music we listened to. Hockey was that connection for me and my classmates. To be able to share that story, talk about some of the struggles with bullying, just trying to be comfortable in my own skin and how much hockey helped me.”

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“When we began the process for this book two to three years ago, the topics that are touched on in here about diversity and inclusion, about racism, about having representation in sports broadcasting, the book became a lot more timely given everything going on in the world right now.”

“I would say my entire experience growing up in southern Alberta would have been completely and drastically different had it not been for hockey . . . growing up in the 80’s when Gretzky was winning all his Cups, it was such an incredible time to grow up . . . here I was saying ‘I want to be a hockey commentator.’ There were so many people in my life early on through my schooling and they would laugh. It would almost be sarcastic, and I’d get the response, ‘Well, OK, what do you really want to be?’ The reason they were reacting that way was, and I was told pretty bluntly, that ‘Nobody looks like you on TV. This is just a dream. It’s not possible for it to come to fruition.’”

Well, after getting a segment on the local radio station in Brooks, enrolment in broadcasting school, time working as a reporter at CBC and an internship with TSN, not to mention encouragement along the way from the likes of Kelly Hrudey and Ron MacLean, Singh’s goal to carve out a career in broadcasting wasn’t just a dream. Then came Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi, which just wrapped up its 13th season, including that unforgettable Bonino call in 2016.

HERE WE ARE

“It’s been such an incredible run to see the impact of the show, how much it’s growing the game, who much it’s bringing families together,” said Singh, who worked alongside Chris Cuthbert and Louie DeBrusk in the Edmonton bubble during the playoffs. “It’s such a beautiful story. I’m so proud to have been involved.”

Growing the game. Bringing families together. Hockey in this country – as diverse a nation as there is on the planet — has been doing that for generations. It’s a common thread that binds us together in rinks from coast to coast, a thread that often brings out the best in us. Hockey is, at the bottom line, a wonderful game and a part of our very fabric.

Why would we, why should we, deny anybody the right to love this game — as Harnarayan Singh did as a child growing up and still does — and have it love them back?

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WORK TO DO

Griffiths and I had no sooner ended our interview with Singh this morning when I came across a story, courtesy of a retweet by Mike Russo of The Athletic in Minnesota, that’s a reminder we’ve still got a long way to go to do away with racism in hockey.

Essentially, the story is this: Mitchell Miller, a defenceman who was the first player selected (111th overall) by the Arizona Coyotes in the 2020 Entry Draft earlier this month, and another teenager were convicted of assault in the bullying of a developmentally disabled classmate in juvenile court four years ago.

“The Arizona Coyotes last month boasted about having their chief executive selected to an elite National Hockey League committee that pledged to stop racism, but the team then spent its first draft pick on an 18-year-old who has admitted to bullying an African American classmate with developmental disabilities.

“Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, the Black student, told The Arizona Republic that he was stunned and saddened when he learned the Coyotes earlier this month had selected Mitchell Miller, whom he grew up with in Sylvania, Ohio.

“Four years ago, Miller admitted in an Ohio juvenile court to bullying Meyer-Crothers, who was tricked into licking a candy push pop that Miller and another boy had wiped in a bathroom urinal. Meyer-Crothers had to be tested for hepatitis, HIV and STDs, but the tests came back negative, according to a police report.”  For context, the entire story is here.

Previously by Robin Brownlee