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From Brooks, broadcaster Harnarayan Singh chronicles his road to 'Hockey's Biggest Stage' in new memoir

Broadcaster Harnarayan Singh. Courtesy, Candice Ward.
Broadcaster Harnarayan Singh. Courtesy, Candice Ward.

A few decades back, there was a mystery at Brooks Composite High School.

One of the school’s math instructors, who fellow teachers had nicknamed Doc Singh because of his Ph.D. in mathematics, was proving to be either incredibly skilled or incredibly lucky at making picks for staff hockey pools. This was puzzling to his co-workers because he exhibited little interest in or knowledge of hockey.

“He was winning his hockey pool and he is not a hockey fan,” says his son Harnarayan Singh, an NHL play-by-play broadcaster and co-host of Hockey Night in Punjabi. “Little did they know, it was me who had made all the picks.”

It’s just one of many anecdotes Singh shares in his memoir, One Game at a Time: My Journey From Small-Town Alberta to Hockey’s Biggest Stage, that shows the Brooks native’s long-standing obsession with hockey. At the time, he had already proven his mettle in hockey pools at his school, winning over his classmates and a little bit of money with his prowess.

Singh may have been the only Sikh in his class and the only student wearing a turban. But he was also the kid who was always wearing the hockey jersey in the school photo. He was obsessed with Wayne Gretzky. All his school projects were about hockey. He wrote opinion pieces about hockey for the school paper and would eventually report on high school sports for the local radio station. Not a strong skater and hardly the biggest kid in his class, he quickly realized that playing the game professionally wasn’t in the cards. So he planned to follow in the footsteps of his heroes, Ron MacLean and Ed Whalen, and become a hockey broadcaster.

All in all, this would seem an auspicious start for Singh’s career as a play-by-play broadcaster. But, as his memoir reveals, it was not always a smooth road to his history-making career on Hockey Night Punjabi and as the first Sikh to broadcast an NHL game in English. By now, Singh’s reputation as an exciting and enthusiastic play-by-play presence in Canada has been firmly established, thanks in no small part to that famously exuberant call of Pittsburg Penguins centre Nick Bonino’s overtime-winning goal at the 2016 Stanley Cup Final that immediately went viral.

But early on in Brooks, there was always a shadow of doubt cast on Singh’s future as a broadcaster. Singh’s parents were certainly supportive, giving young Harnarayan a plastic microphone and small tape recorder so he could practise his play-by-play moves. But even they couldn’t help but wonder what practical purpose his passion and encyclopedic knowledge of hockey would serve. Singh recounts in the book how the family doctor sat him down for a frank talk, telling him he should focus on more achievable goals. It was a sentiment that followed Singh to post-secondary studies at Mount Royal University, where instructors would attempt to steer him to more behind-the-scenes aspirations.

“I don’t blame these people, because they were just being realistic and in those days the truth was that there wasn’t any diversity on TV at all, especially in the sports world,”  says Singh, who will hold the national launch of his book on Oct. 3 at 12 p.m. in association with WordFest. The event will be a conversation with his hero, mentor and fellow Albertan, Ron MacLean.

Singh would eventually land an internship at TSN sports television and eventually begin his career at the CBC as a Calgary-based general assignment reporter. In 2008, Singh made his Punjabi debut calling the 2008 Stanley Cup Final. The idea picked up steam, and soon the “seed of doubt and underdog mentality” that had been instilled in Singh gave way to stubborn defiance and undying commitment to making Hockey Night in Punjabi work.

“It was like ‘OK, here we go. I’m a part of the  Hockey Night in Canada family and I’m going to do whatever it takes to keep this going,’ ” he says. That included paying for his flights from Calgary to Toronto every weekend, running his own social media campaign, sending out mass emails and texts in the Punjabi community to garner interest and even “figuring out the advertising side of it.”

“It was doing so much more than a person would normally do who was on the air for a show,” he says. “I would say that’s where that mentality came in: I’m here and we have to make this work and make this long term.”

In the book, which includes a foreword from MacLean, Singh traces not only his own story but goes back into his family history to when his great-grandfather came to a less-then-welcoming Canada more than a century ago. What emerges is a story that Singh hopes has some re-evaluating what it means to be Canadian, while also offering a beacon of hope in troubled times about challenging bias and pursuing your dreams.

“It is a very positive take on the game of hockey, despite having stories about the challenges in there,” Singh says. “I think it’s a necessary, refreshing, positive message about what sports can do in the world and how it can bring us together and how we overcome social and cultural hurdles through sport. I also feel that given the division that seems to be growing in society right now, we need more positive stories about diversity to prove that it’s possible.”

Harnarayan Singh will be in conversation with Ron MacLean for a WordFest event on Oct. 3 at 12 p.m. for a national launch of his memoir, One Game At A Time. Nick Bonino, Cassie Campbell and Kelly Hrudey will also be involved in the live-streamed event. Visit wordfest.com

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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