Historic broadcast: Believed to be first NHL game in Plains Cree language

EDMONTON — History could be made later this month with the broadcast of what’s believed to be the first NHL game called in the Plains Cree language.

The game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Carolina Hurricanes is to air on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network on March 24.

APTN will use Sportsnet’s production capabilities to air the program featuring Cree commentary and analysis.

Sportsnet vice president Rob Corte called it a “momentous broadcast.”

“We are truly honoured to have the opportunity to work with APTN to celebrate Canada’s Indigenous communities and the shared passion for hockey that unites us all,” Corte said in a news release.

The broadcast will come on the same weekend that the Rogers Hometown Hockey festival stops at the Enoch Cree Nation near Edmonton.

Jean Le Rose, chief executive of APTN, said it’s a great combination.

“We hope it will be the opportunity for us to get into a conversation about maybe having a weekly game in the language … and possibly more opportunities for other languages,” he said in an interview.

It also coincides with UNESCO’s declaration of 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages, Le Rose added.

“We feel the timing was absolutely perfect to highlight at least one language,” he said.

David Proper, executive vice president of media and international strategy with the NHL, said the partnership between Sportsnet and APTN will serve Canada’s Indigenous communities and all hockey fans across the country.

Saskatchewan broadcaster Clarence Iron will do the play by play, while musician Earl Wood will host the studio show alongside game analyst and NHL alumni John Chabot.

Iron, who lives in Pinehouse, Sask., and works for CFNK radio as a program host, has become known as one of the Cree voices of hockey because of his experience calling Indigenous hockey tournaments and local games.

Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1980, Chabot spent eight seasons in the NHL and played more than 500 games with Montreal, Pittsburgh and Detroit. He went on to coach in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League before spending two seasons as an assistant coach for the New York Islanders. He has also worked as a studio analyst for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games with APTN and as a coach on APTN’s hockey series, Hit the Ice.

Woods comes from Saddle Lake, Alta. and is one of the original founders of the Northern Cree Singers, which is referred by some as the “Indigenous Rolling Stones.”

The Cree-language commentary and analysis will be produced at APTN’s studio in Winnipeg with a live Sportsnet feed of the game.

Although it’s believed to be the first NHL game called in Plains Cree, it’s not the first time games have been broadcast in another language.

Sportsnet contributes to the national production of Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi Edition.

Its sister station, OMNI Television, also offers a wide range of programming in more than 20 languages including news, current affairs and entertainment shows.

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