Bains feeling right at home in Abbotsford

📝 by Laura Kirk | AHL On The Beat

“That would just be the perfect story.”

Abbotsford rookie Arshdeep Bains told media after his signing with the Vancouver Canucks organization that “getting the chance to play for the Canucks would be huge for everybody in Surrey, everyone who’s South Asian, anyone who wants to play for their hometown team.”

The 21-year-old Surrey, B.C., native grew up playing hockey less than an hour away from Rogers Arena, home of the Vancouver Canucks.

“It’s probably every kid’s dream to play at home and play for the team they’ve been cheering for,” said Bains, a Canucks fan since childhood.

So when Bains caught the eye of his hometown team, signing the three-year contract with the Canucks organization was a no-brainer. More than that, it was the dream.

But the journey to his professional hockey career was not a smooth one. Going undrafted in both the Western Hockey League and National Hockey League, Bains had to fight his way up the hockey ranks. He took being passed over the “right way,” fueling his motivation to make it instead of letting it discourage him. Eventually, Bains made it to the WHL.

In his final season with the Red Deer Rebels, he put up 112 points in the regular season and won the Bob Clarke Trophy as the league’s scoring champion. Not only was the 43-goal, 69-assist performance a feat itself but Bains also became the first player of South Asian descent to win the award.

Not long after, Bains was heading back to B.C. to make a name in his hometown.

One of the first times in a Vancouver Canucks jersey as a player, Bains scored the game-winning goal in their match against the Calgary Flames during a preseason rookie tournament. Bains describes his first time in the Orca sweater as something he will never forget.

Once the regular hockey season began in Abbotsford, the forward quickly put himself on the scoreboard in Abbotsford’s season opener, and his first career AHL game, with a goal against the Ontario Reign.

Yet Bains’ widespread recognition in professional hockey started when he became the face of Vancouver and Abbotsford’s Diwali celebrations in October.

A video of the Bains family celebrating Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, in their home and describing what hockey means to them was played in-game in both Abbotsford and Vancouver. Bains also modeled Abbotsford’s special Diwali warm-up jersey.

“That was unreal… just having everybody come together and support the culture and support the Canucks,” Bains said.

The first player of Indian descent to play in the NHL was Robin Bawa, who played for Washington, Vancouver, San Jose and Anaheim. With Bains being the fifth to represent his community in professional hockey, the Canucks organization has now rostered the most South Asian players out of any other NHL team to date.

The city of Abbotsford itself has the largest South Asian community per capita in Canada.

“It was awesome signing autographs and seeing everyone who wants to take photos,” Bains said of the post-game meet-and-greet on Diwali Night.

But the meaningful fan experiences haven’t stopped there. Since the beginning of the season, Bains has received an outpouring of support on his social media accounts.

“I get messages about how proud [local fans] are of me,” he says. “It’s a special feeling that there’s a lot of people supporting me throughout this journey.”

From the start of his prospect journey, Bains knew the chance to play for his hometown team would be special for the community. Watching a local kid work his way to play for the team he’s cheered for since childhood, and being one of the first South Asians to reach professional hockey, is inspiring for fans and motivating for other hockey players.

Since signing with his hometown team and playing in a community with a large South Asian demographic, the Bains has become nothing short of a hometown hero.

Living between Vancouver and Abbotsford, Bains has a lot of local support come out to watch him play. Friends, family, fans, and others in the local hockey community get to come out to Abbotsford’s games to cheer Bains on. And there’s a lot to cheer for. Bains has tallied 13 points in his first 24 games, quickly climbing Abbotsford’s leaderboard.

Gaining more confidence as a pro every game, Bains is proving to be a reliable teammate and a smart player.

“He can make plays; he’s found a way to produce offensively and move pucks forward,” head coach Jeremy Colliton noted.

Leading Abbotsford scorer Christian Wolanin also spoke to Bains’ playmaking skills, saying the way that he translates the plays he makes in practice to games “sticks out.”

With a desire to learn and a dedication to details, Bains is a savvy passer, performing a handful of no-look assists so far this season.

But it’s not just about being a difference maker for his teammates — it’s also about making a difference in his community.

“A year ago, I didn’t feel like I was much of a role model,” Bains said. “Now that I’ve got a chance to make it and people look up to me being South Asian, it’s really special. I have a lot of things pushing me.”

Bains is a prime example that with hard work and drive, childhood dreams can come true.

“I hope it can push kids to want to play,” he said. “I’m hoping that more kids of South Asian descent want to play hockey and think they can achieve great things.”