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Canadian dream: India origin ice-hockey star takes his Baba, Bibi to rink for NHL debut

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On Saturday, as Arshdeep Bains strapped up to make his home debut for the Vancouvers Canucks against the Boston Bruins at the Rogers Arena, he pasted stickers of ‘Bibi’ and ‘Baba’ on his hockey sticks paying respect to his grandmother Guran Kaur Bains and late grandfather Kewal Singh Bains.

His father, Kuldip Bains, still remembers the time when he would take his three sons, including his youngest, Arshdeep, to the Canada Hockey Place by the Skytrain from Surrey to Vancouver to watch the Canadian Ice Hockey team’s winning campaign in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Now, Kuldip and his family are harbouring Olympic dreams for one of their own.

“Arshdeep made a visit to our home to meet his grandmother and show her his team jersey before Saturday’s game. Earlier, when he made a lap of the rink before his debut at Colorado as per the rookie tradition, I recorded the moments and showed it to the family later. We all cried that night and we hope to see him in the Canadian jersey in the Winter Olympics one day,” Kuldip tells The Indian Express from Surrey.

Earlier that week, the 23-year-old left-winger made his National Hockey League (NHL) debut, becoming the fourth Indian-origin player after Robin Bawa, Manny Malhotra and Jujhar Khaira to do so. He recorded more than 12 minutes in each of the three games he has played so far.

“On Saturday afternoon, as the whole Bains family cheered for Arshdeep, it was a dream come true for all of us. They say here that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a professional ice hockey player. This game time of one hour was like a whole lifetime for all of us,” Kuldip says.

Vancouver Arshdeep Bains family NHL “On Saturday afternoon, as the whole Bains family cheered for Arshdeep, it was a dream come true for all of us,” says father Kuldip. (Express photo)

As a teenager, Kuldip Bains often featured in local football leagues near his village, Parsowal, in Hoshiarpur district in Punjab before the family immigrated to Canada in 1982. Bains would relocate to Surrey, where he would become a mechanical engineer and started his own workshop AK Diesel. It was in the area of Newton, Surrey that a young Arshdeep would accompany his elder brothers, Amrit and Harvir, who took up the sport only recreationally, to learn his first ice skating lessons.

Festive offer

While the family would relocate to Cloverdale in Surrey, Arshdeep would play in the Surrey Minor Hockey League at different age groups with coaches like Surrey Minor Hockey president Harb Bains. For the Bains family, in addition to supporting their son financially, it would also mean that their days would start at 4 am and then they would travel to Vancouver or nearby cities along with Arshdeep on weekends. “We travelled to places like Winnipeg or Toronto to get him games. Whatever we could do, including some extra hours at the workshop, we did to support Arshdeep’s dream. That’s what each parent does for their children,” says Bains.

NHL Arshdeep Bains childhood In 2014, the youngster spent a year at Delta Hockey Academy before he was called up by Western Hockey League side Red Deer Rebels in 2017. (Express photo)

In 2014, the youngster spent a year at Delta Hockey Academy before he was called up by Western Hockey League side Red Deer Rebels in 2017. His five years with the team saw him scoring 77 goals and gathering 209 points including his 43 goals in the 2021-2022 season and making him the first Indian origin player to win the Bob Clarke trophy.

“Once he enrolled with the Red Deer Rebels, that was his life for five seasons. Junior teams travel by bus here. There were a couple of times when the team got stuck in a snowstorm and they had to spend nights in a small town. As a parent, it makes you worry but then that’s life. In 2018, the whole of Canada mourned the loss of lives of players of Humbolt Broncos in a bus accident in Saskatchewan and Arshdeep too cried all night. His friends knew some of the players and it was a tragic loss. In 2020, he stayed in Alberta with the team for the whole season due to Covid-19 rules and things like these made him what he is today,” says Bains.

In 2022, Arshdeep signed an entry level contract with Canucks’ American Hockey League team Abbotsford Canucks and has so far played in 66 games scoring 13 goals and 25 assists. He was also named as AHL All Star MVP for the 2023-24 season. Last year, Arshdeep along with three other ice hockey players featured in the documentary ‘Mareya shot, keetha goal: Make the shot’ directed by Baljit Sangra and Nilesh Patel. The filmmakers, who spent the whole season with these players, trace the life of the players for a full season and their hopes for the NHL.

“I guess there are more than 1,000 players of Indian origin training here in Surrey only. The movie opens with the scenes of the community celebrating Vancouver Canucks win and what it means to the local Indian community. Eh sada apna khed hai (This is our own game). Of course there are challenges for us but then there is a support system too. Hopefully when Arshdeep wins the Stanley Cup, we will make another movie,” says Sangra.

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