‘Chak de phatte’ draws new hockey fans in Canada

Washington, April 27 (IANS) “Chak de phatte goooaaalll Joffrey Lupul! Torrronto Maple Putayyy!” – that’s how a Punjabi commentator does play-by-play on CBC’s “Hockey Night in Canada” to win new ice hockey fans.

“Dressed in a pinstriped suit with gold cuff links, a blue-and-white tie and a matching turban,” Harnarayan Singh hosts the weekly show with Punjabi analyst Bhola Chauhan, according to a New York Times report from Calgary, Alberta.

The “show that calls games in Punjabi has married Canada’s pastime with the sounds of the Indian subcontinent, offering a glimpse at the changing face of hockey,” says the report.

Describing a game last month between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Winnipeg Jets on two televisions, reporter David Sax recalls how “Singh called the end-to-end action in an animated stream of Punjabi, punctuated with English words like ‘linesman,’ ‘icing’ and ‘face-off.'”

Similarly “Chauhan, an Indian-born draftsman, writer and taxi driver wearing a cream-colored turban, read a fighting poem he had written based on a Punjabi style of verse.”

“The weekly Punjabi broadcast of ‘Hockey Night in Canada,’ as venerated an institution for Canadians as ‘Monday Night Football’ is for Americans, is the only NHL game called in a language other than English or French,” the Times noted.

“The broadcast marries Canada’s national pastime with the sounds and flavours of the Indian subcontinent, providing a glimpse into the changing face of ice hockey,” it added.

Singh, 28, has developed a signature style tailored for his audience, according to the Times report. “A puck can be described as an ‘aloo tikki,’ a potato pancake his mother makes especially well.

Singh, son of Sikh immigrants from India, has a degree in broadcasting. He began working in televised professional hockey as an intern for the cable sports channel TSN when he was 19, and he also worked for CBC Calgary as a radio news reporter.

“Hockey Night in Canada” dropped into his lap in 2009, when Joel Darling, the executive producer of the show, asked Singh if he would call a game in Punjabi, the Times said

Darling told the Times that as a public broadcaster, CBC had a responsibility “to attract new Canadians and people who normally wouldn’t watch the sport of hockey.”

“It just seemed to hit a groove, and all the right points seem to fit,” Darling said, explaining why Punjabi outlasted the other languages. “The community really opened their arms to it quickly.”

Although the number of Punjabi viewers of “Hockey Night” remains a fraction of what CBC draws for its English and French broadcasts, the audience is growing quickly, the Times said.

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