Twenty years ago, street hockey and video game sessions gave Bhupinder Hundal an outlet for his hockey analysis instincts.
Saturdays meant Hockey Night in Canada in the afternoon.
“If you grew up in a small town in Canada, that’s how it was, hockey outside then hockey inside” said Omni TV’s Hundal, a native of Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. “When I came inside, it was always sports games: Tecmo Bowl, Madden and the like, but NHL ’94 was always first.”
And even as he watched his heroes, the idea of a being an NHLer wasn’t in his mind.
“I always had a passion for the game, but for the broadcasting side,” he said. “I always followed the game quite closely, especially from an analytical angle.”
He’s living his dream now, but with a surprising twist.
“I never thought it would be in Punjabi!” he exclaimed.
Hockey Night in Canada PunjabiHundal is producer for Omni’s Punjabi-language news, as well as appearing on air for the station’s Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi Edition. With the take over of hockey broadcasts this season by Rogers, Omni was able to bulk up the Punjabi-language broadcast. Previously, the Hockey Night in Canada-produced version, with Harnarayan Singh as lead commentator, was mostly a web-only entity.
“Rogers and Sportsnet deserve a lot of credit, based on what we were able to take it to, it wouldn’t have been possible without their production support – promos, visual elements, a whole new set, it’s night and day from last year,” Hundal said. “Now we have a robust pre- and post-game show. That’s really helped raise the level of the broadcast.”
The program was also handed its own regular, easy-to-find spot on Omni TV. “We had existing Punjabi infrastructure,” Hundal pointed out. “Also, we’ve got beyond the novelty of it to a what’s now a standard hockey broadcast.”
Hundal may have most of his expereince in news, but he wasn’t new to hockey production or commentary: he was the lead Punjabi play-by-play voice for both men’s and women’s hockey during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
“That was the training ground, we were doing everything, it gave us a good trial run for what we might neeed one day, we were able to push ourselves in how we wanted to present hockey,” he said.
They offered a twist to a picture often shown on Canadian sports broadcasts: not only did they show fans cheering in a bar, they sent a reporter to do live hits during intermission, who put those fans on air, giving them a voice.
“We really engaged the community, we got them involved,” he recalled. “When the Americans tied the [gold medal ] game late in the third, we went live during that intermission before overtime to the bar and our reporter had people to put on air, people saying ‘don’t worry, they’ve got this.’”
As for this year’s edition of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Hockey Night in Punjabi has dialed in to just one series: Vancouver vs. Calgary.
“Vancouver and Calgary have the two largest Punjabi-speaking populations for the Canadian teams still in the mix, so it makes the most sense,” Hundal said. “There’s not a lot that brings together a Canadian-born generation like me, and our parents and grandparents.
“We were at the Vancouver Vaisakhi parade last week, we had dads and sons, grandparents, women coming to talk to us. There were kids blown out of their mind that they could watch hockey with Punjabi broadcasters.” “Not a lot brings families together like that; the parents are interested because the kids are interested. Now the parents can go to work and they can talk with other hockey fans. They know what’s going on.”
As for the words unique to hockey, words like “puck” which don’t have a Punjabi equivalent, Hundal said they’re very careful about choosing to find Punjabi words to describe the action, or just sticking with the original English. Hockey’s a chance, he believes, to also teach English.
“We have a language committee, a collection of people who are experets in language, to guide our people in terms of terminology,” he explained. “It’s a balance we have to strike – you want to be careful with what you come up with.”
“We don’t want to close off people from understanding the words in English, so that they can go watch other games and have a basic understanding of what’s happening, something they can build from. We’re starting to strike that balance very well, I think.”