Perseverance, Racism, And Faith With Harnarayan Singh

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The 20/20 Podcast | Harnarayan Singh


The story of how Harnarayan Singh became a nationally broadcast NHL play-by-play announcer is the stuff of legend. From dealing with outright racism as a kid, to sleeping on airport benches, to calling games on the most famous television show in Canada – Hockey Night in Canada… his story will inspire you to do everything you can do to achieve your goals.

Connect with Harnarayan on Instagram.

Check out Harnarayan’s book, One Game at a Time.

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Listen to the podcast here


Perseverance, Racism, And Faith With Harnarayan Singh

Thank you so much for taking the time to join me here again to learn and to grow. This is a very special episode for a couple of different reasons. First of all, it is the 50th episode of the show. I’m so excited I managed to get to the big 50. To commemorate and celebrate this episode, I have a super special guest, somebody I’ve been wanting to track down for a while.

It was fate that we ended up having to wait until the 50th episode. I don’t think I could have written it any better. Please welcome my guest, Mr. Harnarayan Singh aka Ice Singh. If you’re not fully familiar with Harnarayan, he is a play-by-play commentator for NHL Hockey games on Hockey Night in Canada. He has broadcast over 700 hockey games.

He has received the meritorious Service Medal by the Governor General of Canada. His goal call in 2016 of Bonino went viral and landed him on stage in front of hundreds of thousands of people at the Stanley Cup Parade in Pittsburgh. We’re going to hear a little bit more about that. He also happens to be the Author of the national bestselling book, One Game at a Time, which has received incredible amounts of praise from iconic people like Ron McClain, Bob McKenzie, Kelly Rudy, Haley Wickenheiser, and Cassie Campbell. It is an amazing book. I could go on with a bunch more things, but I’ll stop there. Thank you so much, Harnarayan for joining me on the show. Truly so excited to have you.

It’s such a pleasure. Thanks for the kind intro and you’re right, this is a long time coming. I owe you one. It’s been a crazy year for me and but I’m excited to be on.

I have no issue waiting. I knew you were super busy and I was excited. Every time we connected, you’d be like, “I have this whole other thing that came up and I got all these people to meet.” I was like, “That’s amazing. That’s so cool.” Before we jump in, I’m going to say this a few times through the episode. Harnarayan generously offered to give away three signed copies of the book. What we are doing to create a little bit of a contest is leave a review on Apple Podcasts for this show.

Say you read this episode with Harnarayan so I know that you’ll be entered. Send me a screenshot of that review because a lot of times when you put your little nickname on there, I don’t know who it is. Either put your full name or send me a screenshot with your email address so I know who to connect with if you win the book.

We’re giving away three signed copies of the book. Make sure you leave a review and you’ll be entered into the contest for that. Mr. Ice sing, there’s not a lot of people who get to say that they are literally doing their dream job or living their dream job. This is something you dreamt of as a child. I wanted to be a professional soccer player as a kid. Unfortunately, I’m not doing that. What does that feel like for you to be able to say that that’s what you do no?

It’s special. As life goes on and the more people you meet and talk to and life experience, you realize how rare it is. I knew from a very young age. My family tells me I was four years old when I was saying I wanted to be on Hockey Night in Canada. I’ve got a grade six project where I had an autobiography and I wrote, “I want to be a hockey commentator.”

The seeds were planted when I was young. Eventually, I was told it was such a long shot and it was probably impossible for a number of reasons. Partly being from where I was in a small town in Southern Alberta. Secondly, being a visible minority, wearing a turban, and having a beard. There wasn’t diversity on TV and radio back when I was growing up. Also, especially in the world of sports, there wasn’t. When you don’t have representation then it seems impossible. The fact that it had to defy the odds to have this happen, it means a lot to me. A great fun. I know it’s special. It doesn’t feel like you’re going to work. It’s such a thrill to be doing it.

That’s amazing to hear and what inspires me I’m sure to inspire a lot of other people to hopefully pursue their dreams and their passions in that sense. It wasn’t smooth sailing and you already touched on it. There were a lot of maybe naysayers. Before I go on to that question, I have little tabs in here because I wanted to make sure I get open up to the right page so I can answer the question. The purpose of this show is to inspire others, share stories from people who have excelled or succeeded at certain tasks or their professions so people from other professions can take away insights and inspiration to hopefully excel at theirs.

One of the important things is to talk about the struggles, the twists and the turns and everything that come along the way. There was one little story that you mentioned. Somebody at CBC Radio, a producer that you looked up to specifically said, “How about don’t do sports because people like you don’t get into sports. Do the news instead.” That’s the same thing your family doctor said to you. It’s also what you say there. You hear that stuff at a young age and at an impressionable age, how do you internalize that? How do you deal with that? I know there’s many others who are hearing things that are discouraging them along their path.

Canada Is Unique

I would say that we’re so fortunate to be living in the best country in the world where it doesn’t matter who you are, but those opportunities to have your dreams come true are available to us. A person like myself, how I look, who I am, what my faith is, and how I wear it on my sleeve, as is the saying. I’m not sure I would have been able to have this dream come to fruition in the United States.

The 20/20 Podcast | Harnarayan Singh
Harnarayan Singh: We’re so fortunate to be living in the best country in the world where it doesn’t matter who you are but those opportunities to have your dreams come true are available to us.


I certainly wouldn’t have been able to in India. We see everything that’s going on, persecution, and oppression of minorities. There’s everything going on in the Middle East. You look at the entire world. Canada is a very unique society in the world where we have a long way to go. I can give example after example of why we have long ways to go. In saying that, we still are an example to the world of how it can work.

The fact that Hockey Night in Canada and Punjabi even exists. It shows the power of sports and how it can bring a country together and how it can bring people together. It shows the beauty of multiculturalism that we can celebrate each other’s differences. I would say to people and to naysayers out there, people who are feeling that they want to go for something and someone might be cautioning them.

If you feel you have it in you to go above and beyond to work hard, don’t let anybody tell you that you have to change. Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s not possible. It is possible. I’m living proof of that because of the fact that after paying for my own flights, after having done a lot of crazy things, here I am and I’m getting to do my dream job.


If you feel you have it in you to go above and beyond to work hard, don’t let anybody tell you that you have to change and it’s not possible. It is possible.


Those people in my workplace at CBC who were saying that, “There’s probably not a chance for you on sports. If there’s a chance for you on air, it would be news. Otherwise, you’d make a great producer behind the scenes.” No disrespect to producers. They are the ones that make everything work. They’re the boss of the people who are on the air but I wanted to give myself a shot on the air. That was my passion.

Even when I made it, you mentioned CBC. I had a colleague. I remember a veteran broadcaster who I was sitting with. Even when Hockey Night Punjabi had begun, he looked at me one day. Nobody else was around. He’s like, “The only reason you’re part of Hockey Night in Canada is because of this Punjabi thing. Otherwise, there’d be no way somebody like you would be on Hockey Night in Canada.”

When I was younger back then, initially, you’re always nervous about things. You’re not as confident. You’re not as comfortable in your own skin in the industry yet. I didn’t even know how to react to him. Now, I know after reflection, after life experience, and everything we’ve gone through in the world in the last while.

I would know to stand up for myself and defend myself and say, “I’ve gone to school for this. I’ve studied radio and television. I’ve studied hockey. I know a whole bunch about it and I have experience as a broadcaster. I’m very qualified to be on it. I’m not just a token.” Those moments point to the ignorance that’s still out there. Sometimes, it still surprises you the type of person who will say it who you think is very intellectual and intelligent. They’ll come across and say something to you that’s quite hurtful in that way.

That’s unfortunate but that’s the thing. It can easily discourage somebody that would hurt to hear somebody again maybe that you look up to or you consider to be up here or even beyond that and say something like that to you. That would be difficult. The fact that you’re able to deal with that is amazing to continue to persevere and get to where you are.

This is maybe a bit of a different question. Do you ever feel like there’s a bit of a dark energy within you? Where you take that and you say, “I’ll show you.” I know you’re not that type of guy. You’re a super nice guy. You don’t say anything like that in the book. I always wonder if that motivates. I personally feel like successful people need to have a little bit of that to get them through the tough times. Do you feel have a bit?

I would say it’s specific to each situation. The people who have like blunt racism, racial slurs, and it’s ridiculous. I get things on social media like, “He better shave that terrorist beard off his face before, or I don’t want my hockey coming to me from a guy in a tournament.” To those types of people, I feel that where it’s like, “I’m going to do such a good job to prove you wrong, or I’m sorry, I’m here and my employer wants me to be one of the faces of their company. Screw it. If you have a problem with it, it doesn’t matter. The fact that I’m in this position proves you wrong.”

There’s a bit of that in there but when it comes to like well-intentioned sometimes comments. If I’ve gotten welcome to Canada or I’ve told some of these stories in the book, too. Those ones are harder to take in that sense because it’s almost like, “I’m just as Canadian or I’m so patriotic. How can you assume I’m new here or assume all sorts of things about my community?” I would say I have struggled with confidence in the last while, too. Especially in the foray on to the English side in the last few year.

Sometimes you have to be comfortable. I mentioned this before, being comfortable in your skin takes time, but that would be my message to other people out there. Be proud of who you are and don’t change who you are for anybody else. Those things are important. My faith and my family have kept me going. I always look at it that if I’m going through something that’s a tough time, my ancestors are history. Our community went through extremely tough hard times that what I’m going through doesn’t even compare.


Be comfortable in your skin. Be proud of who you are and don’t change for anybody else.


That also keeps me going too. I can even just look at my parents’ generation who came in the ‘60s. my great-grandfather came in the early 1900s. The stuff they went through is a lot more tough and challenging than what I’ve gone through. If you look way back in our history, it’s unbelievable. Those types of things make me realize and put it into perspective that I have a lot to be grateful for.

Perspective is always important to help you get through those things. Let’s move a little further on in your career then. You had those naysayers earlier on. You’re doing the internship at TSN and eventually, this opportunity to do Hockey Night and Punjabi comes up. Maybe I should give a little bit of a background story. For our friends who are in the US or maybe who don’t follow hockey, the big show in Canada is Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday. It’s the one that most Canadians are sitting down to watch hockey every Saturday evening when there’s a couple of games on. It’s nationally broadcast. It was always done in English but also in French. Those are two national languages. How long has it been now?

2008 was the very first year we did this.

Hockey Night, then in 2008, somebody had the idea to do Hockey Night in Punjabi. The same broadcast, but with Punjabi speaking commentators. That’s where you came in. The thing that I want to again, to share the story, the struggle behind it. There was no budget for this production. You’re doing this on your own dime on a shoestring budget. Tell us a little bit about what that looked like because you lived in Alberta and the show was produced in Toronto.

The Unexpected Success

It’s a four-hour flight from where I lived. Initially when CBC sports, who was operating and managing Hockey Night in Canada at the time. Which as you described, it’s an institution here. It’s like, it’s Monday night football in the States for NFL but even bigger. It’s the be all and all cream of the crop sports show in Canada.

David Massey at CBC Sports at the time had this idea like, “Let’s do something multicultural and diverse.” At a time, that wasn’t even as much of a buzzword as it is nowadays with diversity and inclusion. Give CBC Sports credit for picking up this idea and going forward with it. They tried a bunch of different languages and none of them stuck except for Punjabi. When they started it, they were looking for commentators.

At the time, I was already a reporter with CBC radio, but living in Calgary. Initially, it was what you would equate to like a pilot project or maybe even a one off. We called the Stanley Cup Final. That was the first game I ever called. It was the Stanley Cup Final 2008. It was such a riot. It was like the media attention, the publicity, and the positivity in Canada. You could not have expected. It was unbelievable.

It was such a success that CBC Sports in Hockey Night in Canada came back at the beginning of the next regular season and said, “Let’s make this a Saturday night double header for the whole entire regular season.” The only thing is I had flown in from Calgary to Toronto, a four-hour flight basically across a good part of Canada to get there. When they decided to do this as the entire regular season, they said, “There’s no budget for this show at all. We’re doing it because it was great. We’re doing it out of our own existing budget. We don’t have anything to pay for your travel. You did a great job.”

I also knew Toronto is a big city. That is the epicenter of the hockey world. It’s also the epicenter of the broadcasting world. Whether it’s news or sports. In Canada, that’s the place to be if you want to be in this industry. I knew that it would be so easy for them to find somebody else to do this if I didn’t agree. I made this decision in a split second with my family’s support. I said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be there.” We’re like, “We’ll figure it out how to get you there.”

For the first few seasons of the show, I paid for my own flights. As I mentioned before, I slept at the airport because if I’m already paying for my flights I’m not going to play for a hotel as well. I would call the games and come straight to the airport and try to find a bench then take the earliest flight out. I did that for a good few seasons of the show. Luckily, things have changed for me and for the better but that’s how it started off.

I was willing to do whatever it was going to take to make the show successful and whatever it was going to take for me to be a part of it. Those were the things. My mom kept saying, “Seva. This is seva for the community,” which is selfless service. One of the teachings in the sick faith. She’s like, “Think of this as seva for the community.” We felt the Punjabi community almost validated their existence in Canada. Everybody felt more Canadian. It was like, “We’ve made it. The Hockey Night in Canada is being broadcast in Punjabi. Is there anything more cooler than that?”

That’s why we felt this was something that was so positive for the community. It’s going to be positive for future generations and for the sport of hockey. I kept at it. That’s how it began in 2008 with the starting our own. I’d started the social media on my own. The account sending out messages to the community, emails, and texts to say like, “This is where to watch.” Very grassroots levels have started off.

That’s incredible. Amazing that you did all of that yourself. You said, a few seasons you did that every Saturday. How long is a regular season plus the playoffs? How long were you talking like six months?

That’s 25 to 26 regular season weekends then the playoffs because at that time, we were covering full series. For about two or two and a half months, I was in Toronto. During that stretch, during the playoffs, I had to find family and friends and a room there and had a rental car. During the regular season, it’s about 25 to 26 weekends of flying back and forth on my own time.

Every Saturday morning, you’re flying to Toronto. You do the show, then you end late. Go to the airport, find a bench, and wake up first thing whenever the first flight is and leave. You did that for six months every weekend. That’s for three seasons. That’s incredible. Again, the less lesson there of sticking with it and doing whatever it takes to get to that goal that you have for yourself. Along the way, there was a funny story. It’s like funny, but sad I suppose you could say. At one of these airports, you’re staying and you saw an icon, Bob Cole. Again, to anybody who’s not familiar, who’s an American announcer that we can compare them to?

There’s Madden and Bob Costa.

Basically, a legendary broadcaster that everybody in the country knows who he is and a face and a voice that’s familiar to everybody. You had a little bit of almost run in with Bob Cole.

The Legendary Broadcaster

Each of those seasons in Toronto that I was flying myself, every season, something started to get a little better. Whereas like, I found a family friends place to start spending the nights on the weekend, or eventually when I proved my commitment to the show and I had a couple of people come stand up to bat for me and things. The flight started getting paid. Eventually, by like year four, I started getting flights and a hotel, too.

It was like in succession, little by little. Things started to get better. I’m at the hotel that’s attached. In this specific situation, I don’t have a hotel room paid for yet. What I did is that because I had mapped out the whole Toronto International and Pearson international airport. Which are the best bathrooms? What are the best benches? Eventually, I figured out that there was a Sheraton gateway hotel attached to the airport.

In the lobby there, they had some nice couches and furniture. I walked in casually and gingerly. I got a spot on a couch. That’s where I started and I would hook my luggage too and try to hide my luggage so that’s no one working at the hotel will be like, “Who’s this guy?” One day from the corner of my eye from far away, I noticed there’s Bob Cole.

Bob Cole is from Newfoundland and he’s been calling Hockey Night in Canada for decades already. He’s the guy calling the Stanley Cup Final at that time. It’s a big deal. I want to go up and talk to him. It’s like 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. I don’t know if he was grabbing a drink or if he was chatting with somebody else in the Hotel lobby or one of those hotel lobby restaurants. I couldn’t get up to talk to him. The reason was like, “How would I answer to him?”

I had my luggage and my laptop bag all with me. It’s like 2:30 in the morning or whatever it is. We’d be like, “Hello,” then I eventually the question would come up like, “Are you staying here or what? What would I say to him that? No, I’m sleeping at the airport waiting for four hours to pass till my flight.” I was embarrassed if I be blunt.

I was embarrassed about that and so I didn’t go up to talk to him because I felt like I didn’t have an answer. I regret that now because it would have been a great way to start such a rapport with a guy who has such a great reputation. Maybe I could have learned a lot from him. It was so rare to run into him because of the fact that he’s calling games on Saturday night. I’m calling games on Saturday where our paths aren’t necessarily crossing because of wherever you’re calling the games from, or if I’m in a studio or if he’s at a different arena. It was a rare opportunity but missed because I didn’t have enough courage. I didn’t want it to come across the reality of my situation.

From my perspective, that’s pretty understandable, where you were and what you’re doing. At the time, you were also trying not to let people know and the producers know that you are doing all of this. you don’t want them to say, “We’ll just find someone local.”

I didn’t want them to worry about how are you going to get here in time? What happens if you miss a flight? I had always planned that in advance to make sure that there’s still other flights after mine if it got cancelled. If it was bad weather, I would figure it out. I’m going to go earlier. I didn’t want them to also think I was a lunatic that does that. Paying for their own flights to fly across for a one day a week show. At the time, I was not being paid much at all because it was what it was. There was no future plan for it at that time. We had to plant the seed to make it grow.

How many people would have said? It would have been easy at that point to say, “It’s not going anywhere. It’s way too much hassle.” You probably were a little bit crazy, to be honest, but it was for a good reason. I agree with what your mom said about, as far as doing seva for the community. Again, from my perspective, my family’s perspective and my friends and people that I know, everybody was amazed by this whole process. I can’t believe how far everything’s come in the past decade. Now, if we fast forward a little bit to 2016, I don’t know if you like talking about this or don’t like talking about this because you’ve probably talked about it a million times.

You had this call for Nick Bonino that took off and went viral in every sense of the word. In fact, there’s a couple of sports shows that I watch or listen to every single day. One of them is Around the Horn in the US. Even Around the Horn played it and it is a big show like well-known people on that show. That was when I was like, “Something is happening here.” I would love for you to tell me like, what happened with the goal call? We’ll go from all the craziness that came after that.

A blessing in disguise. I am so grateful I made the mistake of writing down a third line center. I wrote down Nick Bonino’s name accidentally in my notes that I’d printed out for left wing center and right wing. There it was, Bonino, Bonino, Bonino. I remember my producer and my colleagues. I had even printed it out. I do this thing where I have my notes and my peripheral vision is all ready to go. I still was oblivious to it. Everybody pointed it out. We’re like laughing but a minute before going to the air, I don’t have any time to reprint or recheck my notes.

Lo and behold during those playoffs, there’s multiple Bonino Bonino Bonino goal calls because he scored a whole bunch of goals that were big. They were series winners and game-winners late in the game to tie it. He was doing everything. It was wild. The first Bonino Bonino Bonino goal call happened because of that mistake. Pittsburgh Penguins fans ate it up. They loved that we had this cult following. They loved Hockey Night Punjabi.

You go into the next round and it kept skyrocketing and they were asking for it. They were like, “If he scores a goal, you got to do it.” In the Stanley Cup Final game one, it was served on a platter for me. The game’s tied. There’s two and a half minutes to go. He’s standing in front of the net. It’s the game winner and there it was then it came out. That’s the one that like took off and went viral all over the hockey world.

It brought Hockey Night Punjabi and myself to the mainstream stage. By that time in Canada, everybody knew what we were about and why our show was needed. In the rest of the hockey world, especially United States, Europe, and everywhere else. The Bonino call brought us to the forefront and into the more broad and greater hockey family.

How amazing that a mistake, but what’s one of those, as you said, sometimes little accidents are the things that lead you to these amazing findings. Tell me what happened if you can, the short version of what did that lead to ultimately the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup that year? What did you folks end up doing?

During the Stanley Cup Final, as it was getting closer to those elimination games, I was getting messages from the Pittsburgh Penguins. I had been interviewed countless times. I can’t even fathom how many media outlets had interviewed me. A part of it was the Pittsburgh Penguins themselves. They were playing it on the Jumbotron. Apparently in Pittsburgh, every radio station and every TV station.

I was being told by some of the Pittsburgh Penguins employees, one being Celina Pompeani. I talked about her in the book. She was the host for the Pittsburgh Penguins TV. They’re online and in-arena broadcast hosts. She was also saying, “You have no idea how big it is here. It’s crazy.” She was like, “Are you able to come down if they win the cup? Can you come down for the Stanley Cup Championship Parade?” I was like, “What?”

I remember talking to our producers about it and stuff. They were like, “What do they have planned for you?” I remember saying like, “It doesn’t even necessarily matter what they have planned because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.” We’re not even a home broadcaster for the penguins or anything. Here we are a show based in Canada for a niche community and we’re being asked to come be a part of their Stanley Cup celebration.

My colleagues and I were like, “Whatever. We got to go.” We booked our flights and we show up there. The Penguins rolled out the red carpet for us. It was such an amazing tour we got. We eventually surprised the Pittsburgh Penguins in the dressing room with the Bonino call. This is after they’ve won the Stanley Cup. The Stanley Cup’s in the dressing room. room. They’re getting ready to take their Stanley Cup picture.

The team’s cheering and celebrating with us. We’re invited on the ice to celebrate with them with the Stanley Cup when they’re getting their picture taken. From there, the Stanley Cup dinner for the players, the ownership, the management, and their families. We’re a part of that. Meeting Mario Lemieux and meeting the coach of the Penguins. I remember Mario Lemieux first put in his hand then he pulls me in for a hug. He goes, “You’re a part of Pittsburgh Penguins history.”

The coach is saying, “We played your guys goal calls to amp up our team in our video sessions.” It was beyond anything you can ever imagine. It’s beyond your wildest dreams. It is the closest you can get as a broadcaster to winning a cup or being a player on a championship team. Wild stuff that we’ll never ever forget.

Honestly, every time I read or hear the story, it’s amazing to me. It’s maya.

The chapter in the book is called They’re Here. When right when we landed in Pittsburgh, there was tweets people taking the pictures of the backs of us saying, “They’re here.” It’s nuts. I’ve had some people from the Penguins organization tell me that when they got their copy of the book, they skipped over and started with that chapter then read the other ones after because they were so excited to read about it.

People were taking a photo of you and tweeting, “They are here.” That’s something you would say to like Mario Lemieux arriving, like, “He’s here.” They’re doing that for you guys. Unbelievable. Now, because of all of these things that you’ve done, sleeping in the airport and making amazing goal calls. You’re broadcasting on the English side of Hockey Night in Canada. Hockey Night Punjabi is the offshoot separate brand, but under the Hockey Night in Canada umbrella. You’re on the real full on that institution, that Monday night football. You’re on that. How does that feel for you?

The Bonino Call

It’s hard to put into words. It’s so incredible. I’ve been wanting this for so long. I didn’t know if this day was going to come. After the Bonino call, I was asked to be on the English side in terms of a host capacity. I would be doing rink side reporter role or when the game’s about to start, you set the scene then you do player intermission interviews.

From 2016 to 2020, I got to do that. In 2020, when the pandemic hit and the NHL had to go on a pause. When they had their return to play and their playoffs, I ended up being geographically in the right spot in Alberta. One of the hockey bubbles they had it where the players were all in and they were in Edmonton and because I was close by and I was one of the hosts. I got to do three rounds of the playoffs in that role too, which was pretty amazing.

I’ve always known and I’ve communicated this as well a lot to my employers, like, “I appreciate that role.” The play-by-play aspect is something that I’ve done so much on the Hockey Night Punjabi side. That’s my forte and what I’m most passionate about but you never know if that day is going to come. When I got to the phone call, it happened so quickly that like, “Are you ready? Now is the time.”

It was just, it was crazy because the season started in January. My first game, I probably found out about 4 or 5 days beforehand. The game I’m calling isn’t in my city. I’m figuring out the travel and all that, but you’re also figuring out your prep. I’m going to be working with new producer, new colleagues, and all sorts of stuff. It’s a little bit different workflow, different expectations, and higher stage, then there’s the nerves.

As I mentioned, I fight some issues confidence-wise. That first game, it was good to get that under my belt. I know I was a nervous wreck. Since January up until now, and it’s been such thankfully and upward trajectory for me because I’ve put in a lot of time, effort, and hard work and trying to just learn as much as possible. Trying to improve. It’s a comfort thing. I was comfortable doing this in one language for 13 seasons and 700 plus games. You get comfortable there.

Your brain’s wired to call a hockey game with using specific vocabulary. It’s a little bit of a battle. There’s all these things that play behind the scenes. The goal calls are some of the things that I have the most fun with. Eventually, as the season went on, I started getting more comfortable. By the end of it, I was assigned playoffs, which is beyond me such a thrill.

It’s crazy to think. The playoffs is where I felt the most comfortable, where I felt the most like I was being myself. I felt as close as I’ve ever felt to calling the comfort level that I have on the Punjabi side to the English side. It’s been a process, but it’s been fun as well. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

That’s amazing. Before I forget, I want to make sure I mentioned this a couple more times. We’re giving away signed copies of the book, One Game at a Time, which we’ve touched on a few of the stories in the episode now, but there’s so many other cool stories as well as stuff that we won’t have time to get into. Harnayaran talks a lot about his upbringing and the sick faith. The fact that you’re a rock star musician also, which I’d love to tell people more about.

The best way of how you can enter to win a book is to leave a review on Apple Podcast. I just decided now as we’re talking. We’ll leave it open for one month. Until the end of June, if you read this episode at some point along the way, make sure you leave a review. Send me a screenshot, whether it’s on Instagram or email me and we’ll enter you in and Harnayaran will send you a signed copy. I will use that as a point to change the topic of conversation.

One important topic, it’s a pretty heavy topic, but I wanted to make sure we touched on this. You already did a little bit earlier. You on alluded to, we’ve come a long way but there’s a long way for us to go still. There’s a story in the book that I thought was so poignant. You’ve worn a turban. In fact, it’s funny how young you were when you wanted to start wearing a turban. I love that but you’ve been wearing a turban since you were very small. Back in those days, now we’re talking many years ago, the perception of that in a small town in Alberta like predominantly White areas. The perception of a kid wearing a turban might not have been the same.

It’s not the same as what it is now. You tell the story about being bullied and that’s one thing we’ll touch on. The specific thing I’d love for you to tell me a little bit about is there was a kid who stood up for you at that time. I felt proud of that kid. I was like, “Yes, this guy is helping him out.” We fast forward a very significant time for everybody. Maybe it’s not as well-known as how significant it was for the Sikh community, but 9-11 happened in 2001. If you could tell me a little bit what I’m alluding to. If you can tell me a little bit about what happened there and what your experience was.

In a small town, you end up going to school with the same crop of students from kindergarten all the way to high school. You get to know these kids and their families pretty well. That’s the beauty of a small town. When I was younger, in school, showing up with a turban. We spoke Punjabi at home. We’re vegetarian. We listen to different music and you know you’re an outsider.

My name is ten letters long with four vowels. I knew I was an outsider. No one needed to point that out to me, but there are kids who do point that out to you. I would say, in elementary was cutting curiosity. There’s a lot of curiosity. I was always answering questions about my appearance and the differences. Some of the boys who are bigger and stronger and who played ice hockey more than I did. One of them went out of his way.

I would never have been friends with this guy had it not been for my passion for hockey and he thought it was cool that I knew so much about hockey. I’m always wearing hockey sweaters, shirts and talking about it. It’s because of that, he used to say, “If someone gives you a problem, let them know they have to come through me.” That made me feel good, too. I had that in my earlier years of elementary school but things change as you grow up.

In junior high, I started having some more blunt bullying and had some moments. Some pretty crazy moments that stand out where I was tackled or singled out or a bully kept continually finding different ways to give me traumatic experiences. That’s part of it. In high school you mentioned 9-11. I’m in high school at the time.

On that morning, it’s like New York City. It’s such a tragic event there and you think what is it relate to the town of Brooks, Alberta but you have the images of Bin Laden and very small part of the Muslim faith wear turbans. It’s not everybody, but then there’s different styles. The world is not educated about this type of thing. You see any religious headgear, headwear, or a symbol and you make these assumptions. That’s what happened to me. As I’m walking alone in my high school in a hallway, concrete walls and this guy taller than me, stronger than me, grabs me from my throat out of nowhere.

The 20/20 Podcast | Harnarayan Singh
Harnarayan Singh: Small parts of the Muslim faith wear turbans. It’s not everybody and there are different styles. The world is not educated about this type of thing. They see any religious headgear or a symbol and make these assumptions.


He’s choking me and holding me. He slams me against the wall, the concrete wall and he’s holding me up. This is the same kid that I knew in elementary school who was willing to protect me. This is the same kid saying tons of racist, hateful words, swearing, and just spewing vicious hatred words at me and saying, “I can’t believe you guys did this. Go back to where you’re from. How can you do this to us?”

I’m trying to get him off me and trying to get his hands off my throat. I’m trying to push him away. Meanwhile, I’m trying to croak out words saying, “I have nothing to do with this. What are you talking about?” I’m like, “We’ve known each other over a decade. Our families have known each other. We’ve been to each other’s houses. What are you talking about?” It was such an eye-opener for me. I instantly realized at that moment that things had not only changed for me, but they had changed for the entire community.

Within days, we heard about in Arizona, the sick gentleman had a gas station. He’s outside his gas station, sweeping the floor and he’s just shot point blank. We started hearing all these stories about hate crimes and murders. Crazy stuff. I knew at that moment that this had completely changed everything. Airport security has changed so much. It was nuts. When I’m walking around on the street and we’re the only family in Brooks with turbans and who look the way we do.

If someone in my high school who I’ve known for over a decade is going to have that type of reaction, I can’t trust anybody anymore. You don’t know what’s going to flip a switch for somebody and all of a sudden, they’re going to turn on you. It taught me a lesson about humanity. That was a hard lesson to learn and it hurt. It hurts to this day. A number of years ago before the book, I was asked to write for the player’s tribune.

I was asked by the co-writer who worked with me on it. We talked about at length about all sorts of experiences. When it was decided that this was a strong one to include, my parents pleaded with me that I shouldn’t put the kid’s name in there and people change or you never know and what’s not. They made me basically vow or promise to them that I’ll never say this kid’s name out in public. We don’t want to cause any family or somebody issues or whatever like that. I’ve respected that.

I know who he was and who he is, but it’s still shocking. Even when I talk about it, that someone could turn on you like that. Also, I’m learning that it speaks to maybe what some of the upbringing is or what some of their friends circle or what they’re what those viewpoints are. It gets downloaded into kids. If a high school kid can react like that, then obviously they’ve downloaded some misinformation or have people they know who have viewpoints that are full of hatred and ignorance amongst others.

There’s so many people out there who say, “This doesn’t happen anymore, or I thought the world had changed.” It happens. Ethan Bear and Edmonton Oilers player when the playoffs when he made one mistake in the game and the amount of racism he received. I received racism and calling the playoffs. It happens. I’ve heard so many people say, “I didn’t think this happened anymore. I’m sorry. It’s a wake-up call.” It does happen.

That’s such an incredible story and an upsetting story, but lessons to be learned from that. One thing we were saying is there are clear indications that we’ve come a long way. We’ve made a lot of progress. Look at you on national television, national broadcast. That is a symbol of progression. You are a symbol of progression. There’s a lot of other stuff that tells us, “We’re not there yet.”

We don’t need to get into details of the different racist things. Things but I’d love to. From your perspective, what things would you like to see that would show you that we’re continuing to grow or making more of a change in this direction of inclusion? Again, as you said, D&I is such a catchphrase these days. A popular term. What do we need to see?

It’s going to take leadership from corporations and big companies. It’s going to have to take leadership from the majority. You got to have allies from other communities. People who are Caucasian or who are in positions of power to make these decisions to help create more representation within their companies and their workforce. That’s going to be big.

Without that, we can’t fight this fight ourselves. We can’t change perspectives just ourselves as our community alone. We need some help. For example, you’re talking about with me in my position now and credit to SportsNet for making these decisions. There’s so many more women this season who have been on the hockey broadcast.

 It’s amazing to see. I’m seeing that from my five year old daughter’s eyes now. I see that the power of representation. When she started watching hockey when she was younger, she was between the ages of 3 and 4. She wasn’t seeing as many examples. It was weird because when we’re playing hockey at home mini sticks are on the drive or whatever. She was choosing to be, “I’ll be the coach or it’s okay I’ll be the referee.”

I didn’t realize like why she was doing that until I saw her reaction when she saw girls participating in the NHL All-Star game and that look on her face. I’ll never forget that moment. I realized like, “This is so important.” Now she’s seeing more women commentators and her face lights up when she sees that or she hears a woman voice talking about hockey and seeing women hockey players. All of a sudden, she feels like she can be a player too when we’re playing. It’s such a small thing but it gives you the indication that now that barrier has finally been broken. She doesn’t have to grow up worrying that she doesn’t have a place in the game.

The same way, people who are wearing turbans from the sick faith. I’ve had other young kids in high school come up to me and say that they never thought that they would have a spot. They’re huge hockey fans but they never thought they would have a spot in the hockey media. It’s what we’re doing with Hockey Night Punjabi and the success and with me being on the main stage too. They feel like they have a shot.

They’ve started social media accounts following their favorite teams. They’ve started hockey show and had me on as guests. They’ve made me emotional because they’re telling me how much it means to them to see me on there. You need to have people in place of power ready to take a stand and to make these decisions to put diverse people in place. That’s going to make a big difference going forward. It’s not easy for them too because they receive backlash. A lot of times some companies are worried about, “We’re going to be labeled as doing the token thing.” It has to be done. The face of Canada has changed, so let’s have our companies or our workplace, let’s have everything else represent what Canada looks like.


You need to have people in place of power ready to take a stand and to make these decisions to put diverse people in place. That’s going to make a big difference going forward.


That’s a great answer there. We do need help. Over time, as we start to see more representation that will inspire, it will help educate the masses a little bit more on what our country looks like, then inspire other younger people to work for those positions as well. To wrap up the show, there are always two questions that I like to ask every guest. We’ll ask you those now. The first of those two questions is if we could hop in a time machine and go back to a point in your life where maybe you were having a difficult time. You could share that moment if you like, but more importantly, what advice would you give to yourself at that time?

I’ll go back to a moment I talked about when a veteran reporter said to me that the only reason I was a part of hockey night Canada was because of Punjabi. Otherwise, there’d be no way for somebody like me to be part of hockey night Canada. If I were to go back in time, I would have stood up to that person. I would have said that what you’re saying hurts. What you’re saying is not right. You’re making these comments because of how I look and I’m different from you.

I didn’t know what this was at the time, but now I know what microaggressions are. Those types of things are microaggression and racism because you shouldn’t be saying that. Anybody can be qualified or capable of doing any job. It doesn’t matter how they look or where they’re from or what their heritage is. I would have gone back and handled that very differently and put that person in their place and I never did. I didn’t realize I would carry that with me for the rest of my life, too. That being a moment that sticks out. I would have handled it differently.

The 20/20 Podcast | Harnarayan Singh
Harnarayan Singh: Anybody can be qualified or capable of doing any job. It doesn’t matter how they look, where they’re from, or what their heritage is.


Hopefully, the consolation of you being able to pass that forward to somebody and giving them the ability to stand up for themselves will be enough for you to feel better about that. The last question that I like to ask every guest, everything that you’ve accomplished to this point, how much of it would you say is due to luck and how much is due to hard work?

I’m going to give all the credit to my faith. A lot of prayers, a lot of time doing seva and a lot of being focused on that. This whole thing has been such a gift. It’s like all the time that I put into that and was fortunate to put into that. This was this dream and this real big hope that I had and I was praying for it. I got to give credit to my faith and the creator and my family for being there to help me. That’s how it all happened.

I don’t think anybody would have ever been able to predict that Hockey Night Canada Punjabi would even be something that someday would exist before it happened. This was not on the horizon. This was not anybody’s predictions. This was something that was such a gift and I’m so grateful for it. Not only for what it’s done for me but for the entire community, for my colleagues, and for Canada. That’s what I got to give credit to.

That’s a great answer. I love it. Once again, we’re wrapping up. Don’t forget and leave a review. We will enter you into a contest to win a signed copy of the book. Make sure you leave a review on Apple Podcasts and send me a screenshot with your name so I know who you are. Thank you so much for everybody reading.

Don’t forget to take a screenshot, post it on Instagram ad let me know what you think. Don’t forget to hit subscribe, like, and all of those things. I’m going to hand it back over to Harnarayan to wrap up. He has this incredible announcer voice that we haven’t even touched on yet if you wouldn’t mind. Let me first say thank you so much for joining. I’m super excited to get this episode out there, but I’ll let you wrap it up.

You’ve been listening to the 50th episode of The 20/20 Podcast with Dr. Harbir Sian. Thanks, and have a great day.


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