Nazem Kadri didn’t appreciate what Craig Berube had to say about his reputation, so he did something to enhance it.
And for good reason, Kadri didn’t appreciate some of the repulsive, hateful and unacceptable racist remarks that came his way in the hours after his collision with Jordan Binnington.
But instead of coming unglued or being distracted by something no person should ever have to go through, the Colorado Avalanche centre came up with a game for the ages and essentially willed his team to victory in a pivotal game in this Central Division final with the St. Louis Blues.
Not only did Kadri notch his first career Stanley Cup playoff hat trick, but he chipped in an assist for good measure and was the best player on the ice as the Avalanche secured a 6-3 victory and took a commanding 3-1 in this best-of-seven series, which shifts back to Denver on Wednesday night.
As much as he impacted the game, that Kadri was able to keep his composure on the ice and afterward when he stepped to the podium to speak with reporters about the incident speaks volumes about his ability to deal with what could have easily been an intolerable situation.
Not many people could be expected to stay calm under these conditions, yet there was Kadri, speaking openly about trying to use the negative energy as fuel.
“I wanted to come out and really put a mark on this game, especially after what happened. I tried to do that as best as possible,” said Kadri. “Sometimes you’ve got to be patient and you’ve got to wait. I was able to strike early in the second period and was able to get the mojo going, in terms of individually and as a team, so it felt amazing. Especially to do it on the road, it was pure.
“I guess I needed some fuel. I was pretty upset for the last couple of days, but it is what it is. We got the win and that’s what we wanted.”
Kadri let it be known how much he appreciated the support of his teammates and others who have reached out, even if they couldn’t possibly have a clue about what it’s like to receive hateful messages and then simply brush them off, play in this pressure cooker and not merely survive but thrive.
He made a point of saying he knew these messages – as extreme as they were – didn’t represent the entire Blues fan base.
“I know that they’re booing me and what-not, but that’s what being a fan is. As a home team and a home player, you want the fans on your side and heckling the other team, as long as it’s within the guidelines,” said Kadri. “I’ve got no issues with that and I know what was said isn’t a reflection on every single fan in St. Louis. I understand that and I want to make that clear. But for those that wasted their time sending messages like that, I feel sorry for them.”
On Sunday afternoon, the Avalanche let it be known that the St. Louis police department got involved after Kadri received threats.
“I guess someone had contacted them about some hateful messages and I was able to read those messages and they were very extreme,” said Kadri. “So, you know, I just tried to shake it off. They did a good job of assuring me and making me feel safe. I just had to worry about coming (to the rink) and showing up.”
What about the contents of those messages?
“Racial. Threatening,” said Kadri. “All of that good stuff.”
Kadri also knew that there were probably going to be a few members of the Blues who took a run or a swing at him, perhaps be on the receiving end of a cross-check or two.
All of those things came to fruition, but Kadri didn’t shy away and retreat to the shadows.
He absorbed each and every one of those blows, including a cross-check from Pavel Buchnevich and another cross-check and several punches to the face from David Perron as they fell to the ice together during one heated post-whistle exchange.
Instead of retaliating, Kadri picked himself up off the ice and skated to the bench. When his turn came to jump back over the boards, he delivered his second goal of the game.
While the one-timer came seven seconds after those minor penalties expired, it proved to be the eventual game-winner.
“I mean, I figured someone was going to have something to say, but that’s just stupid penalties that we cashed in on and it hurt them,” said Kadri. “If you lose your cool, we’ll make you pay.”
Amid the celebration, Kadri also had the awareness to avoid a potential elbow from Perron, who appeared to be on the lookout for revenge.
When Kadri beat Blues goalie Ville Husso with a shot just before the midway point of the third period, he conceded that it felt “amazing,” and you could understand why.
For all of the compartmentalizing he had to do, Berube’s comment about his reputation being a factor in the collision with Blues defenceman Calle Rosen and Binnington, who is lost for at least the remainder of the series with a knee injury, bothered and also motivated Kadri.
“I don’t know. You know, starting with their head coach, probably. He made some comments that I wasn’t a fan of,” said Kadri. “I guess he’s never heard of bulletin-board material. I don’t know what that was about. But like I said, there were a lot of people saying a lot of things. I’ve got to tune it out. I’ll step up when I have to.”
After the Blues said all of the right things about turning the page and not seeking retribution leading up to Game 4, their actions suggest otherwise and it’s one of the reasons they find themselves on the brink of elimination.
Kadri wasn’t about to be bullied on or off the ice and thanks to his courageous performance, the Avalanche are one win away from advancing to the Western Conference final.
“With what happened, Naz has a job to do, and to be able to stay focused and to be able to perform like that under the circumstances, I thought, showed a lot of character and a lot of resolve,” Bednar told reporters. “He’s an awesome guy and tough kid and he elevated his game at the best time to kind of show everyone what he’s made of.
“It’s not about ego. It’s not about settling scores, as tough as that would have been for him. It’s about winning. You have to make sacrifices and you have to … in order to win hockey games, you have to do it. And it’s no different than any other situation where a guy gets a lick on you. We’re not settling scores. It’s about winning the hockey game. And I think that’s what makes the biggest statement, you go out and you win the game and you suck it up and do what you got to do to help everyone else in the room get what they want, which is a win. And no one wants it more than Naz.”
Kadri is up to five goals and 10 points in eight games and has been a dominant force in the series, picking up some of the offensive slack at a time several of his teammates still have another level to each.
But that’s what good teams do, they pull together and pick each other up, especially when times are tough, either for an individual or the team as a whole.
“I think we always have each other’s backs, but when stuff like that happens, Naz knew that, you know, we are with him and the organization was with him,” said Avalanche defenceman Erik Johnson, who scored the equalizer after the Blues got on the board first for the fourth time in this series. “It was awesome. I felt so good for him. Imagine being in his situation, it can’t be a fun thing. No, no human being should actually receive that type of treatment, especially with a hockey game. It’s just insane. And that being said, I think he liked being the villain and he certainly stepped up for us.
“You’re not going to be fuelled more to try and win a game just because of that, we have enough fuel. But that being said, I think it definitely helped motivate Naz a little bit and, I mean, how could you script it any better for him?”
The only way the script could have been better is if Kadri didn’t have to deal with any of the messages and threats at all.
But being a beacon of light under difficult circumstances is part of the example Kadri set by handling the situation with such grace.
“It’s a good message, I think. People need to be aware that this still happens and it’s hurtful. It’s hurtful,” said Kadri. “I know a lot of people don’t have to deal with that and they might not understand what it feels like, but people are trying (to understand). Which I appreciate.
“At the end of the day, I’m a good hockey player and I just try to provide for my team and try to put all of that aside. I just worry about some people – and maybe some kids – that aren’t as mentally tough as I am and have to kind of go through that scrutiny and that criticism. So, I want to do the best that I can to help.”