Rogers Sportsnet and APTN announce partnership for first Cree-language NHL broadcast

Herald file photo.

Sports fans can look forward to the first Cree-language broadcast of an NHL hockey game thanks to a partnership between Canadian NHL rights holders Rogers Media and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN).

On Thursday, the two organizations announced that Rogers Hometown Hockey in Cree would debut on Sunday, March 24. The Montreal Canadians take on the Carolina Hurricanes, with Rogers Sportsnet providing the video and APTN providing Cree language commentary.

APTN CEO Jean La Rose said they are thrilled with the agreement, which will hopefully start a new hockey tradition.

“When the opportunity arose this year in our conversations, that maybe this is the year it could happen, we jumped at the chance,” La Rose said. “We just know this year we can do it and we felt it may allow us to find partners (and) to look at having a weekly game going into the future.”

The March 24 broadcast will have a strong North Saskatchewan connection with Pinehouse Lake’s Clarence Iron providing the play-by-play. Iron is widely known for calling local Indigenous hockey games, and for his radio show, which he also hosts in his native Plains Cree language.

Prince Edward Island’s John Chabot, a former NHL player and coach, and Alberta’s Earl Wood, a Juno award winner, will round out the broadcast team.

Chabot played more than 500 games in the NHL with Montreal, Pittsburgh and Detroit and spent two seasons as an assistant coach with the New York Islands. He also worked as an APTN studio analyst during the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. APTN broadcast 15 hours of daily Olympic coverage in eight Indigenous languages, as well as French and English.

La Rose said that experience covering the Olympics was a major stepping-stone that helped build the network’s confidence. It also eventually led to a Cree language broadcast partnership for NHL hockey.

“The people we’ve found to do the play-by-play and everything else, are the people who did the play-by-play for the 2010 games, which were basically recognized by the IOC as a great example, and a first for Indigenous languages around the world,” he explained. “This is a first for us in Canada for the game and we hope to have many more to follow.”

ATPN had held talks with Rogers when they signed a 12-year deal with the NHL in 2013. Although they were initially unsuccessful, La Rose said APTN always kept the idea in the back of their minds.

“This year we’ve been able to find the support to do it. We’re launching it and we’re hoping it will be the beginning of a new relationship with (Rogers) and an opportunity for our languages to be heard in the sports venue,” he said.

Rogers Hometown Hockey in Cree will air on Sunday, March 24 at 5 p.m. CST on APTN. The broadcast will coincide with Ron MacLean and Tara Slone hosting Rogers Hometown Hockey from Enoch Cree Nation, Alta.