CALGARY, Alberta — When the Stanley Cup Final ended, pins still held together the thumb that held the stick that scored the biggest goal of the series.
Nazem Kadri ignored lingering pain as he hoisted the Cup. He had broken his thumb in the previous round, when Edmonton’s Evander Kane boarded him, but made an accelerated recovery to play for the Avalanche in the Final. When the season ended and free agency loomed, it took “a while” to recover.
“Had to pull the pins out after the playoffs,” Kadri said Wednesday in his new colors. “They were sticking out of my hand by the last game. So it wasn’t much fun. But at the end of the day, it was worth it.”
Kadri provided the most consequential moment of the Stanley Cup Final, the Game 4 overtime winner that brought Colorado within one win of the championship. It was also a dramatic conclusion to his three-year Avalanche tenure, considering Game 4 was his first game back from the injury after missing 18 days. A few weeks later, he signed with the Calgary Flames on a seven-year, $49 million deal.
“That’s up there for the best moments of all time in my career,” he reflected. “Just in the fashion, the time and place. It was unbelievable. That was something I’m never going to forget.”
Kadri has carved out a place for himself in Calgary’s lineup, earning a trip to the 2023 NHL All-Star Game as the Flames’ representative. He has 17 goals and 18 assists in 45 games, and he led Calgary forwards in ice time Wednesday (19:33) when the Avalanche won 4-1 — even with his night ended early by a 10-minute misconduct penalty. Flames coach Darryl Sutter said Kadri’s experience in the middle of the ice has filled the void of not having “a MacKinnon-type player” on the roster.
Meanwhile, the Avs (23-17-3) are still feeling his absence in the middle. The second-line center position Kadri occupied has been an ongoing weakness without a permanent solution. Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said he understands that “it’s not always possible” to keep title-winning teams together in a salary cap league, but he has “a spot spot in my heart for all the guys that played for us last year.”
“Nothing surprises me, the way he’s fit in here,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “He’s a good hockey player. He’s competitive. Great team guy. Obviously our guys liked him a lot. I’m sure the rest of his teammates in Calgary do as well.”
He also said he enjoys running into the ex-Avs at Ball Arena, where the coach is not afraid to tell them that “hopefully we can kick their (butt).” Kadri hasn’t returned to Denver yet — he doesn’t until late February — but everyone did get their reunion opportunity when the Avalanche visited Calgary the first time this season, last October.
Kadri felt relieved to get that occasion over with early in the season, so the emotions wouldn’t be on his mind as long.
“You don’t want to admit it’s a distraction, but it is to some sort of extent,” he said. “But now it’s nice to kind of get that out of the way and just play the game.”
Kadri didn’t know when he signed with the Flames that Calgary is often compared to Denver and even considered a Canadian equivalent, also located near the edge of the Rocky Mountains.
“Pretty crazy how similar they both are,” he said. “I guess they call them sister cities, too? … It was a pretty seamless transition just because It seemed like a lot of things hadn’t changed.”
The early Colorado-Calgary game also meant he didn’t have to wait long to be given his Stanley Cup ring. He has had it three months now, a way to bring back memories like that goal. The puck got lodged in the net, so Kadri went through a “roller coaster ride” in which he thought he had scored, then didn’t see the evidence of it. “Seemed like (Andrei) Vasilevskiy might have pinched his arm and had it,” Kadri remembers thinking. “So I’m like, ‘I think it’s in, but it’s not in.’”
He didn’t disclose where he keeps the ring — “don’t worry about it,” he said, grinning — but he admitted it’s also a motivational device. He looks at it when he needs to channel its energy.
“Any time you’re in a bit of a funk, you just have a little peek and you start feeling good again,” Kadri said. What about wearing it? “Yeah, no. I put it on. You know, I look at myself in the mirror a little bit.”
So what if he had pins sticking out of his thumb? Now he has a lifetime of memories on his ring finger to show for it.
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