TORONTO – Nazem Kadri wanted to have a big game to honour his late grandfather. He didn’t disappoint.
Kadri scored twice in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 3-2 overtime victory against the Dallas Stars on Thursday night, a performance he dedicated to his namesake, who died earlier this week.
“Emotionally, I think he was really drained,” coach Randy Carlyle said. “I don’t think he really looked himself around the rink the last couple of days. … It’s good to see he was rewarded.”
Kadri missed Tuesday night’s loss to the San Jose Sharks to attend his grandfather’s funeral in London, Ont. The day he returned to the team, the 23-year-old centre was very forthcoming about his emotions, how much he worried about his grandmother and how his grandfather’s failing health was distracting him.
Kadri had just three points in six games after returning from suspension Nov. 23. Injury woes up and down the lineup deserve some responsibility for that.
When he returned to the lineup against the Stars, Kadri found himself centring the top line of James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel because Tyler Bozak is out indefinitely with an oblique strain. He made the most of that opportunity, scoring on a tic-tac-toe passing play early in the second and on a deflection in the third.
Kadri didn’t grab either puck. He won’t forget this one.
“It’s just going to be a memory,” he said. “But it’s definitely something that he would’ve loved to see. In the last couple years there hasn’t been a game he’s missed. He’s going to be dearly missed by our family.”
Kadri spoke to his father, Samir, before the game. The message to young Nazem was simple.
“Just to stay strong, don’t think about it too much, and he knew I wanted to come out and have a big game for him,” Kadri said. “He said, ‘Just don’t push it, just go out there and play your game,’ and that’s exactly what I did.”
Even though he was trying to put his grandfather’s death out of his mind, Kadri said “of course” that was on his mind when the puck went in the net. That was a moment to honour his namesake, though there has been plenty of that in recent days, even on the ice Thursday night from the Stars.
“Everyone’s sending their condolences, which I definitely appreciate, even on the opposition,” Kadri said. “To be in the heat of the moment like that it just shows a lot of character from them. Ray Whitney was actually the guy specifically. He’s a guy I’ve been watching for a long time, and it meant a lot to me.”
It means a lot to the Leafs to have Kadri back on the ice. Carlyle hopes that, beyond scoring, hockey can provide some solace.
“Usually, when you go to work and you get back into the swing of things in life, you move on,” Carlyle said. “It’s been a tough time. There are going to be more tough days for Nazem.”
Follow Stephen Whyno on Twitter at @SWhyno.