Canadian network kicks off 6 NHL broadcasts in Plains Cree

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              Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler (26) celebrates his goal with teammates Patrik Laine (29) and Mark Scheifele (55) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Fred Greenslade/The Canadian Press via AP)
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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — Clarence Iron believes he is on a divine mission to revitalize the Plains Cree language through hockey.

He will be the play-by-play announcer with host Earl Wood and analyst John Chabot on Sunday night when APTN televises the Winnipeg Jets game in Chicago against the Blackhawks. It will be the first of six games to be broadcast in Plains Cree this season.

“I’ve been given an opportunity because I changed my life around, I gave my life to God, and now He’s giving me a new life and that’s why I’m very excited to be doing this,” said Iron, who has overcome problems with alcohol and drugs. “Knowing that this is for the Aboriginal people to try and revitalize this language. I’ve been given another chance at life, that’s why I’m so excited.”

Iron hopes the six games will help First Nations people across Canada reconnect with their language after residential schools almost wiped them out. Iron, who attended Beauval Indian Residential School in northern Saskatchewan, said he has seen how the mandatory use of English and oppression of Indigenous culture has led to many First Nations people losing their connection with their languages.

“There’s still lots of people that understand, they cannot speak, but they understand,” Iron told The Canadian Press. “They could learn very quickly to speak it. In this sense of having the language in any capacity, as long as you’re speaking Cree, people are listening and they’re excited.”

APTN and Rogers Sportsnet agreed a three-year deal on Dec. 13 to broadcast at least six NHL games each season in Plains Cree. After Sunday’s game, APTN will next broadcast in Plains Cree when the Jets and Blackhawks play Feb. 9 in Winnipeg.

The Winnipeg-based network will also broadcast in Plains Cree for the Calgary-Detroit game Feb. 23; Vancouver-Columbus on March 1; Vancouver-Winnipeg on March 15; and Anaheim-Edmonton on March 29.

APTN broadcast the first nationally televised game in Plains Cree last season, between the Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes. Iron, Wood and Chabot all had the call as the Hurricanes won 2-1 on March 24.

It was a childhood dream come true for Iron, who grew up idolizing legendary Canadiens play-by-play announcer Danny Gallivan. In particular, Iron has tried to emulate Gallivan’s musical style of speaking.

“To try and imitate Danny Gallivan takes a little skill, but that’s how I’d like to sound to make the hockey exciting,” he said with a laugh.

Plains Cree is a very descriptive language, Iron said, so learning how to use all the possible adjectives to describe a play has taken some practice.

“When you’re speaking the Cree language you describe the thing, whatever it is, but there is also a name to it,” Iron said. “We have a word for puck, but we also say that it’s black and flat.

“Now if you’re going to describe it, it’s a very long way of describing. It’s something that’s round and flat and slides around something that you slap around with a stick.”