Chinese language sportscaster spreading the love for hockey among Chinese Canadians
'I want people to feel the joy of watching a game live ... and have a sense of belonging,' Brian Wong says
When Brian Wong moved to Calgary from Hong Kong nearly thirty years ago as a teenager, he said he "felt foreign" because most of his peers in university were talking about a game that he knew nothing about.
A sports buff, he found that "the corridor conversation was all about hockey, and I became determined to learn as much as I could about the game," he told Daybreak Alberta.
This, he recalls, was a way of integrating into Canadian society. Wong said he would get $5 tickets for games at the supermarket "and sit in the nosebleeds in the Saddledome with my friends and watch all the games."
Now, Wong is fronting efforts to draw more Chinese immigrants into the game he has learned to love.
He works part-time for the Calgary Flames, producing digital content in a mixture of English and Cantonese telling stories about the team, its games and about hockey culture in general. He also talks hockey in Chinese on his popular podcasts.
The stories feature players, pre-season roundups, upcoming games or about subjects like the special effects used during games. Wong said video is popular "because it is show and tell, and we have many local and even international viewers."
'Its culture goes beyond the stadium'
He said there is a growing interest in hockey among Chinese-speaking immigrants in Calgary.
"They now follow the news, the games and they even analyse the plays. In Calgary, newcomers donning Flames jerseys or hockey jerseys in general is very common," Wong said.
"There are teams made up of East Asian immigrants playing in shinny leagues, beer leagues, or non-contact leagues, but not many. But playing is a different thing as they have concerns about possible injuries."
Wong said he tries to get his mostly Cantonese and Mandarin-speaking audience to connect to hockey by using sporting terms the audience is familiar with, some of which are drawn from soccer.
"Hockey is not an easy sport for a spectator to watch and understand. They wonder why there are offsides, why there are line changes, why penalties are called, body checks and why they fight," Wong said. "By using their own language, I can explain a complex situation.
"Learning about Canadian sport is part of the integration process of an immigrant's journey. Ice hockey is the national sport. Its culture goes beyond the stadium and it opens the door to Canadian society."
Broadcasting and podcasting
Wong has been a professional sportscaster on Chinese language radio in Canada for 21 years, covering a variety of sports.
His first major assignment was the 2001 World Championships in Athletics in Edmonton followed by the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship, also in Edmonton.
He said he started paying more attention to hockey after the Flames reached the Stanley Cup finals in 2004. He now produces his own podcasts, posting them under his FeverSports label.
But getting Chinese play-by-play commentary to the level that Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi has achieved has not been possible. Wong said he has not been able to attract sponsors to pay for rights.
He's hopeful that with ice hockey being introduced in mainland China, the popularity of the game will grow in the community at home as well.
Growing interest in China
Next year's Winter Olympics are being hosted by China. The home country's ice hockey side has automatically qualified for the group round and wants to ice a competitive side.
On a pre-COVID trip to China with the Flames, Wong said he saw considerable interest in the game as NHL games are now shown live there.
"We spent time talking to players, coaches, kids and parents and found that there is a lot of interest," he said. "Parents are willing to pay for their kids to get into hockey camp and learn the game and some of the training and playing facilities are of a really high standard."
The NHL has been actively promoting the sport in China since 2017, training coaches and helping build facilities. Major teams have also played games in China trying to popularise the sport.
But the greatest boost will come, Wong said, when a Chinese-Canadian becomes a big hockey star.
"We need a Yao Ming-esque phenomenon, then the kids will all want to play," he said.
"Overall, I want people to feel the joy of watching a game live, to cheer for your team and have a sense of belonging."
With files from Daybreak Alberta