Fantasy Hockey

Color of hockey: Bains route to Canucks inspires South Asian community

William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for 10 years. Douglas joined in March 2019 and writes about people of color in sports. Today, as part of the NHL’s celebration of Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, he profiles Arshdeep Bains, a Vancouver Canucks prospect who became the first player of South Asian descent to lead the Western Hockey League in scoring in 2021-22.

Arshdeep Bain started his final season with Red Deer of the Western Hockey League with a goal.

“I know I could be a good player in this league, I could be one of the best players 20 years old and hopefully come in and hopefully have a chance at the next level,” Bains said. “I kind of had this idea this summer, but to come up with it is pretty special.”

Now 21, the left-winger from Surrey, B.C., who was bypassed by WHL and NHL teams in their drafts, served his purpose by scoring plenty of points last season.

Bains is the first player of South Asian descent to win the WHL scoring title. He has a career-high 112 points (43 goals, 69 assists) in 68 games with Red Deer.

Bains led the WHL in assists and was tied for sixth in goals with Winnipeg right wing Connor McClennon. He finished the 2021-22 regular season with a 14-game point streak in which he had 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists) from March 5 to April 16 and played in 35 multipoint games during the season. season.

The Vancouver Canucks signed Bains to an entry-level contract on March 11, a dream come true for someone who regularly rode the SkyTrain from Surrey to Rogers Arena with his older brothers, Amrit and Harvir, to watch home games. of the Canucks.

“‘Basey’ came in with the right mindset all year to work hard and achieve his goals, and he did that,” said Red Deer coach Steve Konowalchuck, who has played 790 games with the Washington Capitals, Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche from 1991. -2006. “And I think it’s going to be very satisfying for him to be an undrafted guy who persevered, persevered to get an NHL contract. He should be very, very proud of that.”

Bains said signing with his hometown team is also special because of the potential impact he could have within the larger South Asian community, whether in Vancouver or Abbotsford, where the team plays. subsidiary of the Canucks in the American Hockey League.

“Obviously when I signed I got a lot of messages from all kinds of people saying how proud they were of me, how much they looked up to me, so it was really special when it happened. “, did he declare. “If someone should look up to me, I’m proud of that and I always want to be there for someone. If I can help kids in Surrey, or any ethnicity, to play hockey, that’s is super special, and I will continue to try to be a role model for anyone who wants to be.”

Robin Bawa, a retired forward who became the NHL’s first Indian-born player when he made his Washington Capitals debut against the Philadelphia Flyers on Oct. 6, 1989, said the potential footprint de Bains on hockey in the Vancouver area and beyond cannot be overstated.

Four players of Indian origin reached the NHL: Bawa, who played for Washington, Vancouver, the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks from 1987 to 1999; Manny Malhotra, Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach who was a forward for the Canucks, Sharks, New York Rangers, Dallas Stars, Columbus Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens in 1998 to 2016; and Andreas Martinsen, who was a forward for the Canadiens, Avalanche and Blackhawks from 2016-19.

“‘Arsh’ is now a role model,” Bawa said. “A lot of minor hockey kids, their parents will be really taken because they’ll see one of their own playing, it gives them hope — ‘Hey, there’s one of our kind playing in the American Hockey League or even in the NHL.'”

Bains developed a passion for hockey from his father, Kuldip, who quickly fell in love with the sport when he immigrated to Terrace, BC from India in July 1982.

“He loved soccer, he loved field hockey and he was playing ball hockey when he came here,” Bains said. “He put all his sons into hockey, everyone started at a young age, he loved watching us play and he loved playing hockey.”

Bains said his parents and brothers encouraged him to be the best player he could be and gave him strong moral support when he was not selected in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft.
He signed with Red Deer as a free agent in 2017. Brent Sutter, the team’s former coach and current general manager, said there was something special about Bains (6ft 1in , 184 pounds).

“He wasn’t drafted into the WHL or the NHL draft, but you could see the commitment he was making off the ice by working out and working out in the gym,” Sutter told the Canucks website in March. “The fact that he is the leading scorer in the WHL this season is no coincidence. Every year he gets better and better. I always had a lot of confidence in him because of the person I ‘It is.”

Bains credits his family and Sutter for his path to the NHL.

“Mr. Brent Sutter, he’s always been there for me, he’s always pushed me, he’ll always be a mentor to me,” Bains said. “I’m just working with him, I’m working with my parents, I’m working with my coaches, I’m just trying to see if I can get a contract, get a chance to go to a (NHL) camp.

“Now I have this opportunity and people are pushing me, and I’m super excited to see what I can do,” he said.

Pictures: Red Deer Rebels/Rob Wallator