Nazem Kadri's emotional Cup triumph bigger than hockey
Nazem Kadri hoists the Stanley Cup following a 2-1 victory in Game 6. Photo by John Bazemore/AP.

TAMPA, Fla. — After silencing all of the doubt and the doubters, Nazem Kadri had the strangest sensation when he finally lifted the Stanley Cup above his head.

He could barely feel it.

The thumb surgery that threatened to keep him out of the entire Final came with so much pain in his right hand that Kadri had it frozen for the three games he managed to play. So when Colorado Avalanche teammate Jack Johnson handed the 35-pound trophy over to Kadri during their team’s celebratory lap on Sunday night, it took everything he had to hoist that thing in the air.

“Do you know what kind of andrenline’s going through my body right now?” Kadri said. “I’ve got some freezing in there, too.”

He took a six-week recovery prognosis and returned in a little more than two. The second-line centre managed to line up for just one faceoff and was in discomfort during all 73 shifts he skated in the series.

He needed medical trainer Matt Sokolowski’s help to tie his skates before stepping on the ice.

It was such a surprise that Kadri rejoined the Avalanche lineup for Game 4 last week that his parents, Sam and Sue, didn’t have enough time to travel from their home in London to be at the game in Tampa.

Imagine how shocking it was when they watched him score the overtime winner from their living room.

“I played basketball and my vertical’s probably like about two inches. It was four feet that night,” Sam Kadri said. “It was amazing.”

Kadri celebrates with his teammates following his overtime winner in Game 4. Photo by John Bazemore/AP.

Nearly as amazing as Nazem Kadri’s path to becoming a Stanley Cup champion.

You already know about the playoff suspensions and the trade he never wanted out of Toronto. About the tough love he endured when he was selected seventh overall by the Leafs in 2009 but had to wait until age 22 for his first full NHL season.

Some of the challenges he had to overcome were self-inflicted. Others came in the form of barriers he had to knock down.

Kadri is the first self-identifying Muslim player to win the Stanley Cup, and he endured his fair share of Islamaphobia and racism along the way. That includes earlier in these playoffs, when he was targeted with vicious social media posts after accidentally colliding with Jordan Binnington and injuring the St. Louis Blues goaltender.

“I never forget where I came from, never forget my roots,” he said.

“It just gives you a dose of what’s real out there in the world right now. It’s sad to see that,” Sam Kadri said. “I could respect anybody who says, ‘Man, you’re a dirty player,’ whatever you want to say about him. But once you start bringing in the race card, it’s out of line. I admire him a lot because anybody else you could fold under those circumstances and he decided to do something about it.”

Sam Kadri never played hockey, but he used it as a vehicle to assimilate to Canadian culture after immigrating with his parents from Lebanon in the 1960’s. He had four daughters and a son of his own, and first started dreaming of Nazem winning the Stanley Cup when the boy was 2 years old.

They enjoyed a long emotional embrace on the ice at Amalie Arena after Colorado stopped the Lightning’s bid for a three-peat with a 2-1 win.

Sam didn’t think Nazem would be able to get back from his thumb injury in time to make an impact in the series. Amid the chaos of the celebration, Nazem insisted that his dad lift and kiss the Cup.

“For us, we’re Canadians at heart, first and foremost,” Sam said. “We’re proud to be Muslim Canadians. I think [seeing Nazem win is] going to do a lot for the younger generations.

“Hopefully we get that stigma of racism out of every sport, out of our culture, out of our society.”

The sight of Kadri lifting the Cup brought joy to various corners of the sport. He received numerous messages of support from former Leafs teammates and said, “I hope for the same for them.”

Dallas Eakins, Kadri’s first professional coach with the AHL Marlies, remains in touch with him to this day.

“I am so extremely proud of this young man and his family,” said Eakins, now the Anaheim Ducks head coach. “His passion and competitiveness continue to be his greatest assets. His intangible is grit. He is a true gamer. Absolutely love seeing Naz and his father Sammy celebrating together.

“The Kadri's are all about family.”

And now the family name will be inscribed into the rounded silver edges of the Stanley Cup.

Kadri was driven by the chance to clear the clouds above his head. The Leafs dealt him to Colorado in July 2019 after a second consecutive playoff suspension, and that trade has aged about as well as an open bottle of champagne left in the sun for a couple days.

He earned another lengthy playoff suspension last spring with the Avalanche.

“Everyone that thought I was a liability in the playoffs can kiss my ass,” Kadri said during an on-ice interview with CBC.

He finished with 15 points in 16 postseason games. He received a second-place Conn Smythe Trophy vote and will enter free agency as one of the most desirable names on the market next month.

In the here and now, Kadri could only smile. This was a long time coming.

“I can’t even explain it. It feels better than I thought it would be,” he said. “To do it with these guys, how we did it, the adversity we faced. Amazing. I want to go celebrate.”

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