In the Stanley Cup, Nazem Kadri wanted to be ‘in the thick of things’

TAMPA, Florida. – The pain in the thumb of Nazem Kadri, who underwent surgery earlier this month, was so severe that he could not tie his skates in the last three games of the Stanley Cup Finals. Just holding the stick wasn’t easy, but he did it well enough to score one of the decisive goals of an amazing series with an overtime win in Game 4.

Nothing, Qadri argued – not physical pain, not racially motivated insults from opposing fans, not even moments of his own indiscretion – would prevent him from taking part in the final. So the medical trainers laced up his skates as if he were a boy, and Qadri helped his teammates win the Cup, earning what he considered a measure of redemption in the process.

“I just wanted to be in the thick of things,” Kadri said. “I didn’t want to look away, so I did my best, devoting every hour of every day to getting back there.”

Across the ice, after the Colorado Avalanche’s decisive win in Game 6 on Sunday night, gleeful players were telling stories behind their huge smiles.

Nathan McKinnon, a supremely gifted center forward, has finally joined his mentor, Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, as an NHL champion. Jared Bednar, a coach who spent more than a decade in minor league hockey before finishing last in his first season with Colorado, confirmed his general manager’s confidence in him.

Cale Makar, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason MVP, shared the credit with his teammates. Jack Johnson, in his 16th year in the NHL, finally won the Stanley Cup with a degree from the University of Michigan in the same playoffs. And Nicolas Aube-Kubel laughed it off. make a dent in the base of a revered trophy when he accidentally hit it on the ice while taking position for a team shot.

But perhaps none of them enjoyed the moment more than Kadri, the 31-year-old center who really was in the thick of what happened to the Avalanche during the playoffs this year and last.

Kadri had an amazing season with Colorado, scoring a career-high 87 points and then scoring seven goals and eight assists when it mattered most in 16 playoff games. But Kadri missed four postseason games after Edmonton Oilers forward Evander Kane stopped him from behind at the boards in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.

When Kadri returned, he immediately became a hero with his dramatic strike that beat Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to win Game 4 in overtime.

“He’s the kind of guy you want to have in your room and on the team in situations like this,” said Colorado forward Andrew Cogliano, a 15-year NHL veteran who won his first Cup. “He proved it the other day, recovering from a serious injury that is not easy to recover in such a time frame. He makes things happen.”

Kadri also proved that, contrary to what some might think, he can help the team win the Stanley Cup. Some critics doubted this, and Kadri let them know with a cheeky statement. during the interview after the game with Sportsnet that he remembered it all and now has the advantage.

It was reminiscent of David Price, the baseball pitcher who endured years of criticism for bad playoffs only to hit back. after a brilliant performance in the 2018 World Series for the Boston Red Sox.

But if Qadri is driven by criticism and even scolding, they do not seem to absorb him.

Born in London, Ontario to Lebanese immigrant parents, Qadri proudly strives to be a role model for Arab and Muslim players in professional sports, and celebrated it Sunday at the peak of his professional career.

“It means everything,” he said on the ice. “I never forget where I come from, I never forget my roots. My hometown and the people who have been in my corner since day one, and this is my family, and I love them very much.”

Kadri was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs with the seventh overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft and played part of 10 seasons in the hockey hotspot, scoring 161 goals and assisting with 196. For some Ontario natives, playing for the local Maple Leafs can be a big responsibility, especially since the Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967. Fair or not, Kadri’s time in Toronto has been described by some as a disappointment due to the team’s failure. to get out of the first round.

At the same time, Kadri developed a reputation for making dangerous checks that hurt opponents.

He was disqualified six times for violent acts. In the 2019 playoffs with the Leafs, he cross-checked with Boston boss Jake DeBrusca and was suspended for the remaining five games of the series.

And last year, in his second season with Colorado, he was suspended for eight playoff games for a devastating header against St. Louis. Defenseman Louis Justin Faulk in the first round. Without Kadri, Colorado lost the second round series to the Vegas Golden Knights.

This year, when Kadri broke into St. Louis goaltender Jordan Binnington during the second round series, Blues coach Craig Berube noted Kadri’s “reputation”. Blues fans were outraged that Binnington was injured and reacted in the most horrific way.

Qadri and his family were subjected to severe racial abuse and threats on social media. his wife shared in public. Qadri said he felt sorry for the misguided criminals and continued to play.

As bad as the opponent’s fans behaved, Kadri found comfort in the support of his fans and thanked them for Sunday night.

“That’s the only way to describe it, grateful,” he said. “I am grateful to everyone who stayed with me and was in my corner, including every person in this staff, management, players, fans at home, Denver fans. The Denver fans were incredible. I love these guys. It’s nice to reward them with something.”

This is, of course, the Stanley Cup, the third in franchise history. This is the first event for Kadri after 13 years in the NHL, including the last three years with the Avs, with Kadri in the thick of things.

“The chances of even getting into the league are slim, let alone lift the Cup over your head,” Kadri said. “What a feeling. This is the chance of a lifetime and I’m so happy that we cashed in.”