Book Preview: One Game At a Time

Harnarayan Singh. Photo from Penguin Random House.

Harnaryan Singh has slowly become a household name for hockey families across Canada. In 2008, he started as the play-by-play commentator on the Hockey Night Punjabi broadcast, and to date, has called over 700 games for the program. Today, he works on both Punjabi and English hockey coverage. Singh was born to be a commentator. I have had the privilege of getting to know him a little bit over the years through my research and it has been exciting to see him rise through the sports media ranks. 

On September 22, 2020, Singh’s memoir, “One Game at a Time: My journey from small-town Alberta to hockey’s biggest stage,” will be released by Penguin Random House Canada. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy, so I’d like to give you a bit of a teaser. One Game at a Time is an easy hockey read that is a welcome addition to the growing library of hockey literature. Even though I am Chinese, there were many moments in the book where Singh’s Punjabi Sikh upbringing/experiences resonated with me living as a BIPOC person trying to navigate hockey culture.  It’s not my story, but it could be – that’s what it felt like. We get to know Singh’s family and the important role that his older sister, Gurdeep, played in his success. Readers also get to experience the full depth of his obsession with Wayne Gretzky and learn about Singh’s musical talent. 

If you are trying to embrace more literature about race and racism these days, this is a good read because it’s an honest account about growing up visibly non-white in Canada and the extra hurdles with which it comes. For example, Singh is rather candid about his feelings throughout and he reflects on Don Cherry’s “you people,” comment. It’s also a great way to learn more about the Sikh religion through Singh’s experiences, such as how he wouldn’t let anyone tie his turban except for his father because he wanted his turban to be “just like dad’s.” 

Here is an excerpt where Singh talks about how things changed for him and his family after the attacks on September 11th:

In the aftermath of 9/11, hate crimes against people of colour spiked across North America. Because of the confusion around Bin Laden’s appearance, the Sikh community was lumped right into it. Within a week of the attacks, a Sikh gas station owner in Arizona was shot and killed because of his appearance. There were countless incidents, like attacks, harassments, and vandalism. I’ve tried to keep a record of the hate crimes on Sikhs in North America, but the number is staggering, and you can never really keep up. 

In response, the Sikh community tried to go above and beyond. We all knew 9/11 had nothing to do with us, but we also knew the media was lumping us into it anyways, alongside the billions of similarly innocent Muslims worldwide. We decided to hold public candlelight vigils, and to offer prayers for the victims of 9/11, as a show of solidarity. We wanted to demonstrate that we weren’t with the attackers. We were with humanity.

The hatred that many white people suddenly developed towards people of colour affected me and my family on a personal level. Not long after the attacks, I went to a Calgary Flames game along with another Sikh friend of mine, Tejinder Singh Sidhu, who is now my brother-in-law. I’m not sure at what point the world Taliban started to be used, but several people yelled it at us while we were walking through the crowd to our car—it didn’t matter than Tejinder was wearing a Flames jersey just like they were. Another time, I was in a Walmart parking lot with my sister Gurdeep, and someone called me a “raghead” and told me to go back to my own country. These things started happening more and more, and it put me on high alert.

This is a great example of how BIPOC folx are always operating on some level of alert, even if they may not recognize it as such. The Black Lives Matter movement is, in part, a response to always living a life on “alert” and the protests are the physical manifestation of that collective exhaustion.

Drawing back to One Game At a Time, we also gain insight into some of the nuances of broadcasting in Punjabi:

Sometimes, however, there can be a bit of a language barrier, which can be funny as well as a bit embarrassing. There are several Swedish NHL players with lund in their names: Mikael Backlund, Henrik Lundqvist, and others. Well, in Punjabi lund means penis, which puts me in a tough spot as a broadcaster, because it’s not like I can avoid saying their last names, right? When this came up in the early years of the show, I sometimes felt like I was in high school again, being on the verge of giggles as I said, “Backlund takes a shot on Lundqvist, but Lundqvist makes the save!” And goalies are the hardest. You have to day their name so many times during a game. I am just grateful that Lundqvist at least is called King Henrik, a G-rated nickname that I convert into Punjabi as Raja Henrik as often as I can.

A few years ago, the Hockey Night in Punjabi broadcast received regular airtime through the playoffs, which enabled them to follow teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins all the way to the Stanley Cup in 2016. Sadly, today the team only seems to cover Saturday night double-headers on OMNI, which is one thing in the regular season but for playoff hockey, two games a week isn’t nearly enough for Punjabi audiences to follow along appropriately.  Hopefully, we’ll see more Punjabi coverage in the seasons to come and maybe this book will help amplify the value of the broadcast and its audiences. 

As much as I enjoyed learning about his journey to mainstream sportscasting and his love of music, One Game at a Time reads like a long thank you letter to those who have helped him along the way. We also learn about some folks who weren’t as helpful, but on the whole, we learn about the white allies who believed in Singh and made space for him to succeed. In this moment, this is the story we need, possibly more than anything else. Singh’s story is equally about succeeding in the face of adversity as it is about needing those in power to make way for new stories, visions, and experiences.

I asked Harnarayan a few questions about his book release and here were his answers:

On a scale of 1 to meeting Wayne Gretzky, how excited are you for your book to come out?

Haha – I haven’t been this excited in a while! But part of what’s exciting is to be able to tell the story of my family and previous generations who had to endure a lot more to ensure people in my generation have the opportunities that are available to us today. I really admire how my parents were able to maintain their heritage, despite coming to Canada in the 60’s when being a visible minority was such a rarity. What they went through in just trying to find lentils or the lengths they went to teach us kids about our faith and language in a foreign country was remarkable. Also, excited to be able to talk about my sister Gurdeep and just how much she’s done for me in my life. Plus, to be able to share the story of my wife Sukhy and the challenges we overcame to be together. Lastly, being able to write about everything come full circle, with my kids becoming huge hockey fans and seeing the impact that representation has on them.

What was the first thing you did when you had your book in hand?

When we received advance copies, I didn’t open the box right away. We took the box to our prayer room inside of our house and as a family said thank you for this blessing. It was an emotional, beautiful moment. Then being able to show my parents when they opened the book for the first time, that it was dedicated to them, that was something I’ll never forget. 

When people sit down with your book, what do you suggest they have as a drink and snack to make for the optimal reading experience?

You could go any of which way with this but I would say a nice cup of chai and some vesan! (My mom’s famous sweet – almost like fudge squares)

Is there someone that you have yet to meet who you hope picks up a copy of your book?

Peter Mansbridge (ran into him once at an airport and heard him deliver a speech with my dad many years ago – but haven’t ever sat down with the guy and he’s a legend in Canada!)

Singh’s book can be pre-ordered [HERE].

Excerpted from One Game at a Time: My Journey from Small-Town Alberta to Hockey’s Biggest Stage by Harnarayan Singh. Copyright © 2020 Harnarayan Singh. Published by McClelland & Stewart, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved. 


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