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‘Huge’ Surrey pride for Bains’ Canucks debut as NHL’s 4th Punjabi-roots player

Saturday’s home-ice debut in Vancouver was watched by dozens of family members and friends

What a week it’s been for Surrey’s Arshdeep Bains, who played his first few games with the Vancouver Canucks and became just the fourth player with Punjabi roots to skate in the National Hockey League.

A rookie forward, Bains made his NHL debut in Colorado on Tuesday, Feb. 20, played again in Seattle two nights later, then helped the Canucks to a comeback 3-2 win over rival Boston Bruins in Vancouver on Saturday.

At Rogers Arena, dozens of family members and friends watched Bains play on home ice for the first time, with a team he cheered for as a kid growing up in Surrey, where he still lives with family.

Heading into another home game Tuesday (Feb. 27) against Pittsburgh Penguins, Bains hasn’t yet scored a point in the NHL. But he’s earned the trust of head coach Rick Tocchet and also teammates, meaning he just might stay with the league-leading Canucks for the rest of the season.

“I’m a big fan, I like him a lot,” Tocchet told reporters on Sunday. “I think there’s another level, and that’s when playing in the NHL. He’s earned a spot right now, you know — I don’t know how long it’s going to be. Maybe it’s the rest of the year, but he’s earned a spot.

“I know guys enjoy playing with him,” the coach continued. “I’ve had a couple of players come up to me individually and say, ‘Hey, don’t be afraid to throw him on my line.’ So I think that’s the ultimate compliment for that kid.”

Bains made his NHL debut with proud father Kuldip at the game in Colorado, on the team’s “mentors trip.” In Seattle, more family members watched him in action.

“It was a dream come true for the family, for the community, for all of us here in B.C.,” Kuldip Bains told the Canucks’ rinkside reporter, Kate Pettersen.

“His demeanor is hard work, and right from the beginning he’s always working hard, to the fullest,” Bains’ father added.

Two weeks ago Bains was called up by the Canucks from their AHL affiliate, Abbotsford Canucks, where he’s starred in recent months and earned MVP honours during the league’s all-star game in the first week of February.

Bains, 23, was undrafted in both the WHL junior league and the NHL, and signed a free-agent contract with the Canucks two years ago, in March 2022. He played junior with Red Deer Rebels and captured the WHL’s Bobby Clarke Trophy as top scorer in 2021-22 with 112 points in 68 games.

With the Canucks he’s wearing jersey #80, and on his hockey sticks writes “Bibi” and “Baba” to pay respect to his grandmother and late grandfather. Before stepping to the ice, he touches the ground (rink floor) in a blessing of Mother Earth, a tradition among Sikh Punjabis.

“Bains is a big deal for the Punjabi community, but also Surrey, and it’s such a great story,” confirmed Harpreet Pandher, a broadcaster with Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi Edition.

“He gets signed by his favourite childhood team, the Canucks. Getting signed, that doesn’t mean you’re going to play in the NHL, but the season he’s had, making the AHL all-star team and being the MVP, it was kind of a no-brainer that he deserved a shot at the NHL.

“Going back to his junior days,” Pandher added, “coaches have mentioned that Arshdeep is very coachable, a good learner. Every level he’s been at, he’s worked hard and he made the adjustments needed to get to the next step.”

Surrey-raised Vancouver Canucks forward Arshdeep Bains during a pre-game skate. (Photo:

As the fourth Punjabi-roots player in the NHL, Bains follows in the footsteps of Robin Bawa in the 1990s, Manny Malhotra a decade later, and fellow Surreyite Jujhar Khaira in recent years.

Due to pre-scheduling, Bains’ home-ice debut with the Canucks was not broadcast live on Hockey Night in Canada’s Punjabi edition, which showed the Toronto-Colorado game instead.

While that was a live-TV miss for the local Punjabi community, the Bains story is huge in Surrey.

“Hopefully he can get a point here, maybe a goal, that will be the next thing for him,” Pandher said. “I remember seeing Robin Bawa playing, someone with brown skin out there, and just getting goosebumps watching that. It’s the same feeling I had this week with Arshdeep, it’s great. How few Punjabis have played (in the NHL), it’s surprising to me, but it shows just how tough it is to play in the league.”

• RELATED STORY, from June 2023: Summer ice and workouts for Surrey’s Arshdeep Bains, still shooting for NHL debut with Canucks.

Despite the early accolades, Bains said he isn’t entirely satisfied with his play in the NHL so far, just a few games in.

“It was so special,” he said of Saturday’s home-ice win, in video posted to, “and if I was being honest I was probably a bit more nervous tonight than the first two games. It was awesome, and I had a lot of family and friends here. We were able to beat Boston at home, so it was awesome.”

Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news for Surrey Now-Leader and Black Press Media
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