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BEYOND BCIT: Mantar Bhandal

Mantar Bhandal is one of the freshest faces in sports broadcasting. At just 21, Mantar has landed himself a dream job as play-by-play commentator and analyst for Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi Edition. When he’s not calling games, Mantar keeps busy producing original music, co-hosting an indie podcast, and hitting the gym. Not long ago he was graduating from BCIT’s Radio Arts and Entertainment Program (Class of ‘16), and already Bhandal is well on his way to becoming a household name in hockey.

photos sheldon lynn

If you’re a good storyteller,
it doesn’t matter what your voice sounds like.

When did you realize you wanted to go into the journalism industry?
Ever since I was 10 I knew I wanted to do play-by-play. In Planning 10, a high school class, we were told to make three career choices. Once we plugged them in [online], it would give us three institutions we could go to. I put play-by-play for the first, second and third choices, and BCIT was the only campus that popped up. After doing more research and reading alumni testimonials, I applied for the fall of 2014. I needed 50% to pass the entrance exam and I got 51.

How useful was the BCIT program?
It has meant everything. I came to BCIT straight out of high school as a very sheltered kid. BCIT taught me how to reach out and communicate properly […] and work on technical skills, such as graphic design and audio production. Before I studied at BCIT, the amount of knowledge I had was the size of a chickpea. Now it’s the size of a big ol’ tree. Those two years taught me a lot.

What was your first job after graduating?
A month after graduating, one of the faculty members from the radio program told me about a job opening for hockey commentating in Merritt where he had previously worked at Q101, a local radio station. After sending them my demo reel and passing multiple rounds of interviews, it ended up between me and this other guy. The hiring manager ended up choosing the other guy, saying that though he liked me, the other guy would be a better fit. A couple days later, the manager called me and said that the guy they chose got cold feet and offered me the job on the spot. I will never forget those 10 months in Merritt with extreme weather. In the winter, it would go down to -40oC and in the summer it would shoot up to +40.

What emotions ran through your head when you got your current job?
It almost never hit me. I had just moved back home this past April and didn’t have any career prospects when out of left field, Bhupinder Hundal, a member of the BCIT Broadcast Advisory Council, Facebook messaged me. There were only two messages: one saying, “call me” and the other with his phone number. When I called him, he asked me why I hadn’t called him earlier. He knew that I was unemployed and offered me a job in play-by-play because he had seen my work in Merritt. I was blown away. Right after that phone call I turned to my friend and said, ‘I think I just landed my dream job.’ I’m honoured to be a part of the team (at Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi Edition).

Is this your dream job?
To be honest, I never want to stop growing. I live by the quote, “Always keep moving forward. If not, you’re moving backwards.” One day I hope to call games in English on national TV. Since I was 10 years old watching hockey, it’s been my dream. I hope to leave a legacy and an impact for future broadcasters. As much as it is a dream to be in this position, I don’t want to stop here. I want to get better.

When you’re not calling games, what’s the day-to-day like?
I work as a server in a restaurant. It pays the bills. In the meantime, I work out every day. I was pretty overweight when I came back from Merritt. Having to walk to the gym in -40 weather wasn’t fun. I ate a lot of ice cream and frozen pizzas. When I came back I was at 240 and now I’ve shed it down to 200. Any extra time is spent singing or playing guitar, drums, and bass.

About that – being a musician… Why keep producing and creating music when, to many, you have success as a broadcaster?
I think it’s good to have another outlet. I like to think of myself as a multidimensional person. Music was a way to get through tough times in life. When I was a kid, both of my parents battled with cancer. Music was a way to escape that. When I started playing those instruments, I was able to channel how I felt and create my own things. Nowadays, it isn’t as much important as it was before, but it played a big role in growing up.

Tell us about your Unsportsmanlike Conduct podcast…
I decided that having a podcast was a good idea to stay active in the industry in a different way. My friend Bailey Meadows, a guy I met in the BCIT program, co-hosts the show with me. We found that we held interesting conversations about hockey and thought, ‘Why not make it into a podcast?’ It’s not just something you’d hear in the bar, but something that I think is more insightful, because we have some background knowledge. Bailey and I have both played goalie positions. Did you know the coach never talks to a goalie during a game?

We have many segments we do. One of them is called “Hey You!” where one of us has a message for someone or a group of people that have a strong opinion. On the last episode, I went off on people who agreed with goalies and their superstitions. One day we hope to be Tim and Sid, or Jay and Dan, hopefully on TV.

What would you say is the hardest part of your job at Hockey Night in Canada?
Before this job, I had never called a hockey game in Punjabi before. I speak it at home all the time, but that’s nothing compared to gamespeak. There’s no direct translation for “dumping a puck in.” I’m still learning to say the correct words, while keeping it entertaining too. My parents and co-hosts have helped me learn a lot.

Who are your inspirations?
Ron MacLean. He’s one of the best storytellers out there. Many people forget that it’s so important to performance. If you’re a good storyteller, it doesn’t matter what your voice sounds like; you’ll be a great broadcaster.

Brian Adler has been a big help for me too. He’s worked for MTV and has tons of on-camera experience. He taught me that if I want to emphasize something important, I should lean in and speak more quietly. Those little details are hugely important.

How do you set yourself apart from the competition?
Don’t back down from a challenge. When you’re 20, and move to a small town after not having lived anywhere on your own, it’s intimidating. It all starts with your mindset. Work on yourself and keep improving your skills. If you can’t take advice, how are you supposed to grow?