“For everyone that thought I was a liability in the playoffs, you can kiss my ass.” —Nazem Kadri, Stanley Cup champion
TAMPA – It wasn’t just what Nazem Kadri told the Hockey Night in Canada audience on the night he became a Stanley Cup champion. It was how he said it.
Speaking to Sportsnet’s David Amber and Elliotte Friedman in those delirious minutes after the 739-game veteran hoisted the trophy of boyhood fantasy, Kadri thanked the supporters, of course.
Then, right before skating off, he gave a shoutout to the haters, too: “And for everyone that thought I was a liability in the playoffs, you can kiss my ass.”
Giddy and laughing as he said it, eyes wild with devilish joy, Kadri looked like a Halloween kid running away from a flaming paper bag and a rung doorbell.
“I said what I had to say already,” Kadri told a few Toronto-based reporters after his mic-drop moment. “But I love all the people that stuck by my side. All the true supporters that, even in the dark times, which there was a few, stuck by my side and knew I'd be the player I am today.
“I feel blessed. I feel very thankful and grateful, and I couldn't have done this without so many people.”
That group includes his former Maple Leafs teammates, who have been messaging encouragement from three rounds away. The same guys he tried a little too hard to stick up for in past playoffs.
“Of course. Of course, absolutely,” they’ve been in touch, Kadri said. “Those guys are still my friends. They'll be lifelong friends of mine. And, you know, I hope the same for them.”
The Kadri Redemption Tour ripped through Tampa twice.
First, when, in his painful comeback attempt last week, the forward charged into a 1-on-3 situation and buried Game 4’s overtime game-winner in storybook fashion.
“I played basketball, and my vertical is probably about two inches,” said Nazem’s dad, Sam Kadri, said. “And it was four feet that night.”
Sam has been following his son’s team around for most of this storied championship run, but he watched Game 4 at home on TV because no one really believed Nazem’s surgically repaired thumb would allow him to play that night.
“He's pretty focused, pretty determined. That hand injury was really bad. I mean, to be honest with you, I didn't expect him to come back. So, we’re blessed. And I thank God. Thank you,” Sam said.
“I'm so happy for him because he battled through a lot of adversity and a lot of challenges, a lot of obstacles. You know, he's pretty focused. Pretty determined.”
So determined, Kadri bandaged and froze his damaged thumb prior to Games 4, 5 and 6. He jammed it into a special glove for added protection, and persevered when he couldn’t take faceoffs. He watched as his normally peppy shot morphed into a muffin.
The pain was excruciating.
“It was terrible. Terrible. I felt it every single shift, and it was tough,” Kadri said. “I turned a six-week (recovery) timeline into two weeks. Great medical staff helped me along the way. I couldn't even tie my skates before the game. I had the medical trainer tie my skates before every game. So, what a war. But nothing was going to stop me from being out here.”
Wait. How did you manage to lift a 34.5-pound trophy with a busted hand?
“You know what kind of adrenaline is going through my body right now?!” Kadri said, gaze afire.
“Man, I just wanted to be in the thick of it. I didn't want to be on the outside looking in. So, I did everything I could, dedicated every hour of every day trying to get back playing. And feels great.”
Darcy Kuemper begins to choke up when we ask the goaltender about the impact of Kadri’s return to the final.
“A guy like Naz that no one expected to be back, he pushes through the pain and comes back in the lineup,” replies Kuemper, his voice shaky. “It inspires everybody. And then for him to score that overtime goal, that’s just a boost of adrenalin for everybody. We're so happy for him, and obviously we couldn't have done it without him.”
The second and most delicious bout of redemption arrived on Sunday, when Kadri hoisted the Stanley Cup with a club he was reluctantly traded to — after the Maple Leafs decided they couldn’t trust the fiery centre to get suspended a third time in the post-season.
And after Kadri actually did get suspended a third time in the playoffs, playing for Colorado and delivering an eight-game headshot to Blues defenceman Justin Faulk in 2021.
The rap sheet had become his reputation.
“It was kind of like a dark cloud above his head. And I think he wanted to kind of remove that. And he did that,” said Sam, beaming with pride.
“I mean, if he had not hurt his hand, I think he would’ve been able to contribute a lot more. Moving forward, I think everybody's gonna realize that he is a playoff performer.”
Not only is he a playoff performer, Kadri is the first Muslim to win the Stanley Cup.
“It means everything,” Nazem said. “I never forget where I came from, never forget my roots. All my hometown people that have been in my corner from day one, and that's my family. And I love them so much. I gotta go celebrate with them.”
Sam considers it an incredible achievement but a better example.
“For us, we're Canadians at heart, first and foremost — and we're proud to be Muslim Canadians. And I think it's gonna do a lot for the younger generations. You know, hopefully we get that stigma of racism out of any sport, out of our culture, out of our society.
“I also get my name on that cup. So, I’m blessed.”
If Kadri had three regrettable playoff moments prior to this run, he had three indelible ones this spring.
The first being his hat-trick response in St. Louis after some racist fans spewed hate in his direction for colliding with Blues goalie Jordan Binnington.
Yes, Sam admires Nazem for his pain threshold and his hockey skills. But he also cherishes how his son handled that ugliness with class.
“It just gives you a dose of what's real out there in the world right now. And it's sad to see that,” Sam said. “I could respect anybody who says, ‘Man, you know what? You’re a dirty player,’ whatever you want to say about it. 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.”
Nazem Kadri stood up, bounced back, pushed through. He deserves his moment.
So, does the London, Ont., native know where he’ll be partying on his day with the Cup?
“No idea. I'm gonna have to decide. It's gonna be quite the party, though,” Kadri smiled.
“We are going to celebrate tonight, and we are going to celebrate tomorrow, and the day after that too.”