Malhotra making NHL history

Manny Malhotra says it's great that people can watch NHL games in his father's native Punjabi language.

Columbus Blue Jackets forward is the only NHL player of Punjabi descent

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Manny Malhotra, seen in NHL action earlier this season, is the only current NHL player of Punjabi descent. ((Christian Petersen/Getty Images) )

Manny Malhotra says it's great that people can watch NHL games in his father's native Punjabi language.

"It says a lot about the popularity of hockey in different markets and the multicultural country that is Canada," Malhotra, a forward with the Columbus Blue Jackets, told in a recent telephone interview.

Malhotra, who grew up in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, is the only player of Punjabi descent currently on an NHL roster. 

But he admits he doesn't speak the language.

"With my mother being French Canadian, English and French were the two languages spoken in our house," says the captain of Canada's bronze medal entry at the 2000 world junior hockey championship.

Even though the Blue Jackets have not appeared on Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi this season, that could change come playoff time.

Columbus is in a tight race to finish among the top eight teams in the Western Conference, giving the Ohio club a chance to make its first post-season appearance since entering the NHL in 2000. 

If they finish sixth, the Blue Jackets would face the third seed in the conference quarter-finals. 

Unless the standings undergo a drastic change in the final two weeks of the season, the Blue Jackets would meet the Northwest Division champions, likely Calgary or Vancouver, in a best-of-seven series.

Manny Malhotra takes a faceoff against Mikko Koivu of the Minnesota Wild earlier this year. ((Scott A. Schneider/Getty Images))

With the playoff races being so tight, Malhotra is understandably only looking ahead to the next game on the schedule. 

But what would it mean to the local community if they could watch someone of Punjabi descent in their native language?

"He can be a role model to the younger Punjabi generation," says Rajinder Saini, a radio talk show host and newspaper publisher in the Toronto area. 

"Watching Malhotra, they can aspire to play hockey and maybe even become an NHL player."

Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi analyst Harnarayan Singh agrees.  

"That's the next step for Punjabi kids," says Singh.  "Once they see someone with a Punjabi last name, they know anything is possible."

His broadcast booth colleague says it would be great to call an NHL game involving a Punjabi player.  

"I would be extremely proud," says play-by-play commentator Parminder Singh (no relation). "The emotion would be incredible, especially for a Canadian Punjabi player. 

"They struggled as all people who came to this country and tried to fit in. They paved the way for their offspring who were born and raised in Canada. 

"The subset of Canada is being expanded.  We are Canadian."

And what's more Canadian than the rite of spring of following the Stanley Cup playoffs?