CBC targets Chinese hockey fans with Mandarin broadcasts of NHL playoffs

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VANCOUVER - There's no word for hockey puck in Mandarin.

So Jason Wang, who's been calling the Montreal-Boston series of the NHL playoffs in his native Chinese language for the CBC - a first for the public broadcaster - just uses the Mandarin word for ball.

It's one of the many hockey terms Wang has had to translate and in some cases make up as he calls the games for a Chinese audience. He says it's no easy task.

"Especially in hockey, where Chinese culture doesn't have a context for it, so I have to translate a lot of the terms, all the penalty calls, and sometimes I have to borrow from other sports," says Wang, sitting in the small recording booth at the CBC building in Vancouver where he calls the games while watching them on a large TV.

"I have an entire list of penalty translations that can get a little tricky," he adds, holding up a cheat sheet of his translations. "I'm speaking to pictures, so I think the audience will catch on pretty quickly."

Wang will call one series in each of the four playoff rounds, with the Mandarin broadcasts streaming on the CBC Sports website. He adds that the games are also being shown on several satellite and specialty TV stations.

Wang started calling sports with the University of British Columbia campus radio station, where he provided the play-by-play for varsity athletics.

He added Mandarin into the mix last year when he called several Vancouver Whitecaps soccer games in his mother tongue.

The producer Wang worked with for the Whitecaps games then approached the CBC about adding Mandarin to "Hockey Night in Canada."

Wang, a 24-year-old aspiring broadcaster who was born in Taiwan, says it's too early to know how many people are tuning into the games, but he says the audience for such Chinese-language programing is only getting bigger.

"With such a growing Chinese-Canadian community throughout the country, especially in the major cities ... we think this is a market that will continue to grow," he says. "We just believe that it will grow as time goes on."

Larry Kwong, who became the first Chinese player in the NHL when he played a single game for the New York Rangers in 1948, lets out a delighted chuckle when he hears about the broadcasts.

"No kidding, I can't believe that," says the 84-year-old, who was born in Interior British Columbia and now lives in Calgary.

"Why not? You know how popular hockey is here, and I can't see why it shouldn't be good to get them (Chinese-Canadians) involved in it."

Kwong, who speaks Cantonese and not Mandarin, says he thinks the broadcasts could attract more Chinese fans to the NHL, just as he hopes his own short-lived appearance in the league did more than a half-century ago.

"It brought some Chinese in, yes, but there wasn't enough of it," he says. "There wasn't much interest in the Chinese population for hockey, but now, with TV and all the games getting broadcast, they can't help but take some interest in it."

Kwong's NHL career was brief: he was a Ranger for just one game before returning to the club's farm team, the New York Rovers, and he was only on the ice for a single shift.

"They didn't give me much of a chance," he says. "I was really nervous to start with, and to get just a minute and a half on the ice, that's not good."

Still, Kwong says he doesn't think his ethnicity ever stood in the way of his hockey career.

In fact, Kwong, who made a living playing in several minor and senior leagues, including a year with the Nottingham Panthers in England, said it was easier to get onto a hockey team than it was to find a job.

"I didn't think there was a barrier against Chinese players playing. There was a barrier for working and things like that," he said. "In my days, we played hockey to get a job. Jobs were hard to get in those days - those were the things that we had to fight against."

It's difficult to find references to other Chinese players in the NHL.

One of the more recent examples was Peter Ing, a goaltender who had short stints with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Edmonton Oilers and the Detroit Red Wings in the 1990s. And there have also been only a handful of players from other Asian countries.

As for Wang, he hopes the CBC invites him back to call more games next season - and if that happens, he wants to trade his quiet recording studio at the CBC for a chance to broadcast live from the stadium.

"That's where you get the most atmospheric feel to the game," he says. "You can feel the crowd, you can feel the play developing ahead of you instead of relying on the cameraman."


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