Clarence Iron had called many hockey games on the radio – but what happened on Sunday, during the NHL game between Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes, amazed him.
Iron made history by being the first play by play announcer to call a game on national television in Plains Cree.
“It happened – my dream came true but to call it in Cree. I thought I would call it in English because I’ve called a lot of English hockey games before but to do the Cree, even myself, sometimes I amaze myself,” he says with a laugh.
APTN and Sportsnet, the official broadcaster of NHL hockey in North America, teamed up for the historic game – a milestone in Canadian television history.
Iron has long been recognized as one of the Cree voices of hockey.
He’s hoping this historic moment opens the doors for the next generation too.
So does studio host Earl Wood who was beaming with excitement throughout the game.
“I want to invite all those young people out there no matter where you are to take it upon yourself to gain an interest in our language and to utilize it,” Wood told APTN News. It has a place in this modern day society and can take you anywhere you want to go.
“Anywhere you want to go, your language will take you there.”
— Dominic H K Beaudry (@DhkBeau) March 25, 2019
The game was pure entertainment on and off the ice.
The Hurricanes played the spoilers for Canadiens fans in a 2-1 overtime win.
In a game with playoff implications
Even if you didn’t understand a word, you could feel the excitement in the call.
“That was exciting tonight,” says Joel Darling, executive producer of special events at Sportsnet. “It really was and to see some of the tweets that were being put out on social media was pretty exciting to and hear you guys call it the way you did, it was entertaining and really fun to listen to.”
While some may have tuned in initially for the novelty, many stuck around because it was so exciting to watch.
An important game for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples says Jason Chamakese, a Cree language guest on the broadcast.
“The only thing that I can think of right now is wow. To be part of something that amazing, to have our languages broadcast to living rooms all across Canada and to have people who don’t understand the language hear how beautiful our Cree language sounds. It’s amazing to be a part of.”
Chamakese hopes the airing of this game is about more than just hockey.
“I think we want everybody to get along and to care about one another because I see a disconnect and through something like this our hope is that we build these bridges between people,” he says. “That’s what I’m hoping for that this will lead to something good, something positive (in cree) which is sharing the land in a good way.”
Studio analyst and former NHL player John Chabot says this can’t just be a one off.
“The NHL has done a job of reaching out to our new Canadians but they’ve really never reached out to our pre-Canadians and this was something that was a long time coming,” he says.
And it may not be a one off.
Talks are underway in the hopes of airing more games next season on APTN in different Indigenous languages.
At the moment, hockey is broadcast in English, French and Punjabi.