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New Flame Kadri still has ‘lots more to give’

Nazem Kadri Calgary Flames Nazem Kadri - The Canadian Press

Fresh off winning the Stanley Cup and inking a seven-year, $49 million contract with the Flames, Nazem Kadri’s time in Calgary is off to an impressive start.

He has 10 points (five goals, five assists) in eight games and has earned the trust of head coach Darryl Sutter, often going over the boards when the team needs a goal or is protecting a lead.

His new teammates have commended the veteran centre’s leadership abilities, which the Flames will rely on as they hope to mount a playoff run of their own next spring. 

Kadri is also one of the league’s more dynamic personalities. Over the summer, he became the first NHLer to bring the Stanley Cup to a mosque and donated $1 million to the London Health Sciences Centre. 

Kadri spoke with TSN about his relationship with Sutter and how he’s trying to make an impact off the ice.

TSN: Your Calgary career has started off well. You’re producing at over a point-a-game pace. What’s the fit been like early on here with the Flames?

Kadri: “It’s been obviously a great start so far. I’ve got to compliment my teammates for allowing that to happen and for me to come in and feel comfortable and try to play my best hockey. As a team, I think we’ve still got some things to figure out, but we’re well on our way.”

We see you talking a lot with Darryl Sutter. He’s a coach a lot of people would see as a strong fit. What’s that relationship been like early on?

“It has been great. He’s obviously a guy that’s really well respected and he shows a lot of respect for us, especially the older group and the guys that have been there and done that. I’ve got nothing but great things to say about him. He’s a great Xs and Os guy. He prepares very well and he’s a fun guy to play for.”

We see a version of him in the media and in press conferences and you see a completely different side of him. What’s the difference between media Darryl Sutter and locker room Darryl Sutter?

“Yeah, that’s the best part. I’m not sure there is much of a difference, so it’s probably pretty entertaining for you guys. But at the end of the day, he wants certain details done the way he’s used to them being done and that’s proven to be effective throughout his years. So, obviously something works. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I think he’s doing a good job getting his message across.”

Is there any moment that stands out that’s your favourite or makes you chuckle?

“No, not really. Honestly, away from hockey he’s such a nice guy, a great guy, very caring. We obviously share being Stanley Cup champions and I brought my ring in and we had a look at it together and he wanted to see it. He’s got great things to say, and he’s got great advice.”

I think a lot of people were really excited to see you in the Battle of Alberta, facing a couple of the best centres in the league. You’ve had a couple of them under your belt now. What’s that been like, being in what might be the best rivalry in hockey right now?

“It’s really one of them, that’s for sure. I think just based on the calibre of both teams, that’s what makes it exciting. They’re a couple of great teams going at it each game, and obviously the location’s not too far and both have got great fanbases. It’s been fun and I look forward to many more in the future.”

You’ve been a part of a few of these. It seems with the Leafs, every team they play is part of a rivalry…Boston, Montreal, Ottawa. How does the Battle of Alberta compare to, say, the Battle of Ontario, or the Leafs-Habs rivalry?

“Similar for sure. I think there’s even the Battle of Ontario there between Toronto and Ottawa and many other rivalries. That’s what you get with history. Historic fanbases that, when you come together, it’s gonna be a good game.”

And it’s often said about Darryl Sutter that he knows how to keep a group even-keeled – not too high, not too low. You’re a team that’s expected to potentially make a Stanley Cup run. How does he keep you motivated during the early stretches of a season?

“Well, I think you just approach a season in segments and not look too far ahead or behind. It’s important to stay present, stay in the moment. It’s 82 games, whether you have the best game of your life or the worst game of your life. The next day, you’ve just got to turn the page and focus on what’s ahead of you.”

Away from the rink, you might have had one of the more compelling careers in the National Hockey League, coming from Toronto, Colorado and winning the Stanley Cup and now you’re in Calgary settled for the long-haul. And your career has had ups and downs. Was there a pivot point or a time that was pivotal in your career and taking that next step?

“For me as a player, I’m a very competitive person, so each year just trying to improve as much as I can and work on my weaknesses. You’ve got to think that you want that longevity, and your career is only a certain span in your entire life, so you want to give it everything you have and maximize your potential. I think obviously that transition from Toronto to Colorado, I tried to take my game to the next level. Being on a contending team, you want to deliver, and you want to come through for the fans in the city.”

I read that you’re big into Kobe Bryant and that ‘Mamba Mentality.’ What’s that meant to you so far in your career?

“Everything. It’s helped me a lot, just that visualization and mental aspect of playing professional sports. It’s hectic sometimes and you have to understand how to manage it and keeping your game in line. Like I mentioned, having that short-term memory and, regardless of what happens, just moving on.” 

When fans see you on the ice, they see a guy that goes 110 per cent. It seems like you’ve embraced that off the ice as well. You’re looked at as a role model to Muslims and people across the hockey world and beyond it. How have you approached your role as a Muslim player in hockey and one who is performing at a very high level?

“Just try to lead by example. Obviously, I’m not perfect, but I don’t really try to be either. I just accept who I am and try to bring a positive attitude and a fun attitude to the rink every day and put my work in. To be a minority in this league, I think it sets a path for the younger generation. I would have loved to have someone that looks similar to me to look up to when I was younger, but that obviously wasn’t the case. I think the game’s starting to trend in that direction, which is great to see.”

Growing up in the sport, I know people might sacrifice certain parts of their identity to fit in, whether it’s the way people say your name or brushing off certain comments or the way you look. Did you have to make those sacrifices early on to fit into a sport where people didn’t look like you?

“Yes and no. I think I’ve always done a pretty good job of staying true to myself and being who I am. I think maybe in the younger part of my career, it might have rubbed some people the wrong way, but you start to appreciate and admire that about somebody over the course of their career, about staying true to yourself and being who you are, most importantly.”

I was talking to Brian Burke, and he said a turning point for you was probably when you met your wife and had your daughter. How does having your own family now change your perspective or your viewpoint on these things?

“You’ve got to take other peoples’ feelings into consideration, right? I think that it becomes more of a selfless approach when it comes to off the ice. At the end of the day, everyone wants a happy, healthy family and I’m blessed to have that opportunity.”

You wrote that you can’t wait to show your daughter and tell her what it means to be Muslim in North America. So, what does it mean to be Muslim in North America?

“It means a lot. That’s my roots. That’s where I came from. That’s a lot of my foundation, with those principles and values that I’ve been taught, and I still carry them to this day, and they’ve made me the person I am today.”

What goes through a guy’s head, bringing the Stanley Cup to the mosque that he grew up going to?

“A lot of excitement for sure. Any time you can be the first person to do something, it’s kind of a surreal moment and a bit of a wake-up call just to see how excited everybody was. That’s part of history now, so that’s always fun to achieve.”

Lastly - I know it’s too early for you to talk about legacy and how you’ll be remembered, but the last 12 months, you’ve won the Stanley Cup, made a huge donation to your hometown hospital, and a myriad of other things. How do you think you’ll look back on this period of your life?

“One of these days, I’ll be able to reminisce and really appreciate and be thankful for what I’ve been able to achieve. Like I was mentioning earlier, throughout your career, how you want to maximize everything you can, and you’re put on this pedestal, you’re given this platform, and you want to do the best you can to help others as well. It’s not even close to being over. I’ve still got lots more to give and that’s what I’m most excited about.”