Nazem Kadri will walk through the doors of the London Muslim Mosque in southwestern Ontario with the Stanley Cup this weekend as part of a hometown celebration the 31-year-old NHL star wanted by design.
Kadri, the only son of five children born in London to Lebanese parents, is believed to be the first Muslim player to win an NHL championship. It happened in June, when his then team, the Colorado Avalanche, beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the playoffs in June. After a long career with the Toronto Maple Leafs before joining Colorado, he’s now with the Calgary Flames.
But before lacing up his skates for the western Canadian team, he’ll take his turn hoisting the Cup, and is looking forward to doing that alongside the Muslim community in London. It all starts with an afternoon parade on Saturday.
Most of this is for the youth, for the next generation, trying to inspire them, to see the shiny trophy, having the same dream that I did.– Nazem Kadri, Stanley Cup champ
“Most of this is for the youth, for the next generation, trying to inspire them, to see the shiny trophy, having the same dream that I did,” Kadri told CBC News.
Longtime family friend Hassan Mostafa said starting the festivities at the mosque is a way for Kadri to involve the community that’s meant so much to him.
“Nazem is proud of his Muslim heritage, and it was definitely on purpose that the Kadri family wanted to start the parade at the mosque,” said Mostafa. “He’s going to come out of the mosque with the Cup hoisted high and really show that you can be Muslim, you can be different, you can be of a different background and still have the best of success in a wonderful country like Canada.”
Mostafa admitted that early on, he was skeptical when Kadri’s father, Samir, said his young son was NHL bound.
“His dad would say, ‘Yup, my son is going to the NHL,’ and we really weren’t sure that was a realistic goal, but he’s proven us all wrong, and we’re so proud of Nazem, and what he’s accomplished and winning the Stanley Cup.”
Kadri said he can’t wait to hoist the Cup in London.
“I’m excited to have this opportunity to share with the community and with my family. I’ve been looking forward to it all summer, so I can’t wait,” he told CBC News.
“Youth hockey and junior hockey in London has come a long way and is pretty impactful in the community and in the London area. It all really taught me a lot of lessons about life.”
It’s an honour to be the first to do anything, Kadri said.
“It’s very special. Growing up, watching the NHL, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me or resembled my background, so the youth is going to look at this with a brighter light. I think it will draw in more diverse youth into the sport.”
The road to victory came with challenges
The road to winning the Stanley Cup hasn’t been easy for Kadri, who spent his junior hockey career with the Kitchener Rangers and then the London Knights before being drafted by the Maple Leafs in 2009. At times in his career, he’s had his ability questioned.
On the ice, he often plays the role of the agitator.
During this year’s NHL playoffs, he collided with St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington. Later, the goalie tossed a water bottle in Kadri’s direction while Kadri was being interviewed for television. Kadri also became the subject of racist threats on social media following the collision with Binnington.
While he’s made a few enemies of players on opposing teams, Kadri had a standout year with Colorado, contributing a career-best 87 points in the regular season. His efforts propelled the Avalanche through the playoffs and also helped him secure the$49-million US deal with Calgary as a free agent.
For his dad, it makes all those hours of early-morning practice worth it.
“I have to say that the hockey parents are the best parents in sports. You get up in the morning, it’s snowing, it’s cold, you’re going to a cold arena. It’s a lot of dedication, but it’s something Nazem enjoyed, so I enjoyed watching him,” Samir Kadri said.
“Numbers are definitely up for minorities registering in hockey, Nazem has been able to inspire kids. In Canada, hockey is so relevant to Canada and when you’re watching the sport and you see someone who is a different colour, you associate with them, and you think you might be able to get there. We’re very proud of that.”
Saturday’s celebration comes as London’s Muslim community continues to endure the pain of last year’s attack, which left four members of one Muslim family dead. Police have said the attack was hate motived. A man charged with murder and terror-related counts is expected to go to trial next year.
While no hockey win can heal a wound that deep, Mostafa said it will feel good to have the community come together and celebrate the successes of one of their own.
Mostafa said many kids in Muslim households have picked up sticks and strapped on skates, inspired by Kadri.
“I would argue that Nazem is the most famous Muslim in Canada,” said Mostafa. “He’s definitely someone our young kids look up to, admire and try to emulate.”
Cup destined for the mosque
Munsur Haidar, 13, also a Muslim of Lebanese descent, plays minor bantam hockey and was inspired by Kadri. His family is close to the Kadri family and he’s been inspired by them.
“It’s showing that he did it, so why can’t I if I work hard enough,” Haidar said. “It’s just nice knowing someone that I grew up watching my whole life has accomplished something that great.”
Having the Stanley Cup at the mosque will be extra special, the young player said.
“He’s bringing it to a place that I am all the time, my whole life. It’s going to be an amazing feeling. I know he grew up like me, with some struggles, and it’s motivation for me that if he can do it, why can’t I?”
Saturday’s events begin at the mosque, which is on Oxford Street, at 12:05 p.m. ET. From there, the Cup will move to Victoria Park for a community celebration at 12:45 p.m.