LONDON, Ontario (AP) — Calgary Flames forward Nazem Kadri brought the Stanley Cup to his hometown mosque on Saturday.
It was a day filled with pride and joy for the 31-year-old Kadri, who won the title with the Colorado Avalanche this past season.
“That’s the goal, to inspire and motivate the youth. This young generation is looking for role models so I do the best I can and I’m just happy I get to share it with everybody,” he said.
“I didn’t expect this kind of turnout. I’m very grateful for all the supporters.”
Kadri began his day with the Cup at London Muslim Mosque. He said the mosque is part of his background.
“It’s part of my roots, it’s part of who I am,” he said.
“For all these people, I know they’re on my side, (it) just shows they came over here for me — just very grateful for them.”
Hundreds of people, many in Kadri Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys and T-shirts, gathered shortly before noon at the mosque alongside Kadri’s family and loved ones. He was welcomed by a loud ovation.
Munir El-Kassem, the religious director at the Islamic Centre in London, and Faisal Joseph, a lawyer, activist and longtime member of the community, addressed the crowd, sharing stories of Kadri’s character and what he’s meant to the community, especially the Muslims of London.
Mayor Ed Holder also spoke to the crowd, declaring Kadri as “the greatest Londoner.”
After Kadri paused to autograph T-shirts, jerseys and pictures, the celebration moved to Victoria Park, on the Kiwanis Memorial Bandshell stage. A number of Lebanon flags — the country Kadri’s family is from — were held high, along with a couple of Canadian flags.
Holder presented Kadri with the key to the city.
“There’s a reason why I’m not just celebrating this with my family. I wanted to come out here and share with you guys,” Kadri told the crowd. “You’ve been supporters of mine from Day One and I can’t tell you enough how much that means to me.
“I’m hoping that this inspires and motivates kids to pursue your dreams because I never thought this was possible. I had some great support and people made me believe. If you believe, you can achieve. To see everybody come here and support me just inspires and motivates me even more, so we’re going to try to run this thing back (when) I’m going to Calgary.”
Kadri’s message of hope hit home with the Muslim youth in attendance.
“I think it’s really an amazing experience for the Muslim community and it’s really inspiring for us,” said 15-year-old Zayan Khan. “If he can win the Stanley Cup as a Muslim, he inspires more Muslim people to achieve their dreams.”
Kadri’s visit was a welcome celebration in a community that was rocked by tragedy last year. Four members of a Muslim family were run over by a truck and killed in what police described as motivated by anti-Muslim hate.
“It’s difficult. We’re still dealing with the scars and the sorrow that comes from the horrific attack that happened last year to our community,” said Hassan Mostafa, a family friend who sits on the board of directors of Kadri’s foundation.
“Does celebrating this erase all of that? Absolutely not. But it’s great to have something tremendous like this to celebrate. Our community needs something like this, and we’re so excited and so proud.”
Kadri has faced his share of racism and Islamophobia, especially in this past postseason.
After a collision with St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington in Game 3 in the second round that knocked Binnington out of the series with an injury, Kadri was the target of numerous threats and racist comments on social media.
Kadri’s father, Samir, said his son’s strength to push past the noise makes his accomplishment even greater.
“I could say that it’s sweet, but it’s not like revenge or anything like that to be honest with you, I don’t feel that that’s the way it is,” he said. “I feel that it’s definitely unbelievable to be able to experience that, especially when you’re going through the trials and tribulation of race.
“I felt it myself immigrating from Lebanon back in the ’60s and going through the school system here and dealing with that type of stuff. I know my son has dealt with it, but I feel that there is more of a link, you know, where people will realize, ‘Hey, you know, maybe they’re really not any different.’ This kind of helps in that case. We’re blessed for that.”
Kadri set career highs with 59 assists and 87 points in his third and final season with the Avalanche. He had seven goals and eight assists in 16 postseason games during Colorado’s title run.
Kadri signed a $49 million, seven-year contract with the Flames last week.
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