The 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs have been a showcase not just of exciting play, but wonderful play-by-play.
In English Canada, we’ve got the country’s finest sports broadcaster in Jim Hughson announcing games for Sportsnet, with some cameo appearances by 82-year-old Hall of Famer Bob Cole.
In the U.S., fans tune in to NBC and listen to the legendary Doc Emrick call games.
But the biggest broadcast buzz in social media circles these playoffs, from Britain to the American Rust Belt and beyond, has centred on a group who gather at Vancouver’s CITY-TV studio to call the game in Punjabi for OMNI.
“We like to have fun and it shows that on-air,” colour commentator and analyst Randip Janda said. “And how you see us on-air, we’re pretty much like that off-air.”
Their broadcasts have become a Twitter sensation (@HkyNightPunjabi) and play-by-play announcer Harnarayan Singh’s call of a goal in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ previous Stanley Cup series has gone viral.
“Bonino! Bonino! Bonino!” Singh yelled, eight times in all, after former Vancouver Canucks centre Nick Bonino scored a game-winning goal late in the third period.
“It was something that just came together, it was such a surprising goal,” Singh said.
(Story continues below video of Singh’s goal call)
Well, not quite. During his pre-game preparations Singh had pencilled in Bonino, who has played all three forward positions at some point in his career, at centre. And at left wing. And on right wing.
Just before puck-drop, Singh noticed that and thought to himself, “Bonino-Bonino-Bonino.”
It has become a meme of sorts in Pittsburgh, appearing on T-shirts and hats, with Bonino’s teammates mimicking the call in the dressing room after a subsequent game in which Bonino scored in overtime again.
The Penguins also included the call as part of a highlight package on the team’s website, appearing at 1:00 of an eight-minute reel.
Singh then outdid himself on Monday night after Bonino scored the winning goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final against San Jose, announcing Bonino’s name 10 times in an excited staccato before adding a final drawn-out “Nick Bonino” just to make sure we knew just which Bonino he was referring to.
Janda, a Vancouverite, and Singh, who flies in from Calgary for broadcasts, are joined by Bhupinder Hundal, a Port Alberni native now living in Surrey, and Harpreet Pandher of New Westminster, who add colour and post-game analysis.
The broadcast is at times part international soccer call (goooaaaalllll), part Bollywood musical (with singing and dancing), a pinch of WWE showmanship and a generous dose of infectious enthusiasm.
“Other than specific stats, the commentary is pretty much off the top of our heads,” Singh said.
Singh, whose grandfather in 1908 was one of the earliest Sikhs to immigrate to Canada, grew up in rural Alberta in the 1980s, when the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames were the bellwethers the rest of the NHL measured themselves against.
From the age of four Singh would drive his parents and three elder sisters nuts commentating during Hockey Night in Canada games.
And he worshipped Cole’s play-by-play of Leafs games.
“This has been my dream since I was four or five years old,” Singh said. “I had no idea it would come to fruition this way.
“To think Hockey Night in Canada can broadcast in our mother tongue is phenomenal.
“And Bob Cole, I grew up listening to him, his was the voice of so many historical stories in hockey.
“To do that in Punjabi on the flip side is amazing.”