The success of the Punjabi edition of Hockey Night in Canada

All photos submitted
All photos submitted

WHEN Bhupinder Hundal was playing NHL’94 as a kid, he would break into play-by-play commentary in Punjabi.

“We were just joking around and having fun.  Who knew that 20 years later, you could watch Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi,” said Hundal, who is now working both as an on-air analyst and behind the scenes on the broadcast.

As the playoffs approach, Punjabi-speaking hockey fans are staying glued to the Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi edition broadcast on OMNI.

Since the show moved from CBC to OMNI last year, the quality of the program has jumped considerably.

HEADLINES Hockey Night Photo 2Producer Nathen Sekhon said that fans used to tune in to the show for a few minutes “just for the experience,” but “often would switch over to the main feed to watch the game.”

Now broadcast in HD and from the Sportsnet studio, the show is becoming a legitimate destination for hockey fans.

Many new Canadians are looking for a way to connect with their new country; hockey gives them the opportunity to do that.  Vancouver has a large Punjabi-speaking community, with 20 per cent of Indo-Canadians residing in Greater Vancouver, 250,000 people as of 2014.

“It’s what connects us most with Canada while we try and balance being a typical Canadian and looking like we came from another part of the world,” says Hundal.

“Pick any Vancouver Canucks home game, when they take a pan-shot of the crowd, you’re going to see a lot of Indo-Canadians,” says Sekhon.

Grandparents are watching the broadcast with their grandkids, and on-air staff of different ages help connect many generations.  Before the broadcast came to OMNI, the hockey fans in the family would want to watch the English broadcast for the HD quality and the older generations would get lost in the quick commentary and tune out. Now the family can watch the high quality Punjabi feed with cultural references and colloquial terms that appeal to an older audience as well.

“The older generation loves the fact that Punjabi is getting greater exposure and the younger generation is being exposed to their mother language in a “cool” way,” says Hundal.