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The Associated Press
April 4, 1999

Indian Eyes Are on New York Rangers Rookie
By DEEPTI HAJELA
Associated Press Writer

RYE, N.Y. -- Sree Sreenivasan hates hockey. Yet these days, the New Yorker scours the sports section of the paper looking for stories about the New York Rangers.

Seema Mehta is a Philadelphia Flyers fanatic. But the Los Angeles resident also checks Rangers box scores, something she would never have done last season.

The way they and other South Asians around the country see it, they now have a reason to watch the team -- Rangers rookie Manny Malhotra.

The 18-year-old Canadian-born center is believed to be the only Indian ever to play in the NHL, according to the league. And while he's spending his rookie season developing as a player, he's also aware of the interest.

"It clicks in once in a while. My dad tells me a lot of his friends in the New York area tell him that there's a lot of people in the community that are watching now," Malhotra said after a recent practice. "I don't really try to think about it that much, but when I do at times contemplate it, it's pretty neat to think that there are a few fans watching me just because of who I am."

Not that there aren't other reasons to watch him -- such as ability. He hasn't gotten a lot of ice time, but he's scored eight goals and been praised by the Rangers, who made him the seventh choice overall in the 1998 draft.

"It's been a real enjoyable experience for me," Malhotra said. "Everybody's been so kind to me and really instrumental in my development this year. They all care about the fact that it's difficult to be 18 years old and playing in the league."

For many Indians, Malhotra is more than just a player with a lot of hockey potential -- he's a symbol. They say his presence in the league shatters stereotypes of Indians as science and math geeks only interested in being doctors and engineers.

"I think he shows we're more a part of the culture," said Mehta, a reporter with The Los Angeles Times.

Sreenivasan, a professor at Columbia University, said Malhotra "has given me a reason to have an interest in hockey."

Malhotra grew up in suburban Toronto as the fourth and youngest child of a French-Canadian mother and a father from Punjab, India. Malhotra said he was often the only Indian on the ice when he was younger.

It was something he noticed, but not something he obsessed about.

"I didn't actually realize when I was young that it was a predominantly white sport," he said. "Once in a while I'd see that I was the kind of different guy in the room."

It's not too different in the NHL. Of more than 650 players, just over two dozen come from ethnic minority backgrounds, the league said.

But even those few players can have an impact, Malhotra said.

"Kids can look at not only myself but other ethnic players in the league and say it's no longer a white sport," he said. "Anybody can do anything they want just as long as they work and have the ability to play."

Malhotra's already making an impact.

"He's pretty well known now among the younger group," said Suresh Kumar of New York, president of the local chapter of the Network of Indian Professionals. "More people are paying attention to the Rangers. His name comes up quite often."

sree's lowercase world | stuff | malhotra