Bains’ debut comes 35 years after Duncan’s Bawa became first Punjabi player in NHL history


When Robin Bawa’s dad couldn’t be at his first NHL game, they did the next best thing.

“My dad, back in 1989, bought a dish. And those things were huge, like 20 or 30 feet in diameter,” laughs Bawa from his home in Vancouver.

“My dad had to chop a tree down in the backyard, put the tree on top of the dish to get it high enough to get a signal, then he watched my first game. It was pretty cool.”

It was in 1989 with the Washington Capitals that the Duncan-born Bawa became the first player of Punjabi descent to play in the NHL.

“When you’re the first person at the time you’re doing it. you don’t really realize it,” says Bawa.

Manny Malhotra and Jhujar Khaira have since suited up with NHL clubs, and Wednesday brought the fourth-ever appearance by a Punjabi player when Arshdeep Bains made his debut in Denver.

“On social media, it just blew up,” says Bawa.

The Surrey-born Bains played more than 13 minutes on the Canucks third line in a 3-1 loss and was treated to the traditional “rookie lap” where a player making his debut skates out alone during the pre-game.

“I almost forgot to hit the pucks on the ice when I went out there. I was in awe of being out there so it was really special,” said Bains after the game.

Bains was on the ice for two goals against, but Rick Dhaliwal, co-host of CHEK Media’s Donnie and Dhali saw plenty of upside.

“The fact that he hung with those guys is a very good sign for him,” said Dhaliwal Wednesday morning.

Randip Janda was in the broadcast booth calling the game in Punjabi, and the significance wasn’t lost on him.

“On a personal level, it was really cool to see a kid that’s been a diehard Canucks fan put on that jersey and go for that solo lap,” he says.

Bawa is surprised only three other players of South Asian descent have cracked NHL rosters in the 35 years since he first made history.

“There are so many [South Asian] kids that play hockey in the Lower Mainland but once those players hit 15 or 16, those numbers fade away.”

Bawa’s son Arjun plays in the WHL and skated alongside Bains with the Red Deer Rebels a couple of seasons ago.

“I texted him a month ago and just told him to stay the course,” says Bawa of Bains.

There was no satellite required for Bains’ father, Kuldip, to take in his son’s debut he was there in person.

“He was emotional,” said Arshdeep. “There was a little bit of water in his eyes, and that’s every kid’s dream to make his dad proud.”

There’s no indication whether Bains will stick with the club, but the Canucks are in action Thursday night in Seattle vs. the Kraken.

Jordan Cunningham

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