Someday, perhaps, a moment like the Nazem Kadri moment won’t be too big for the National Hockey League and its players and coaches and teams.
Someday, perhaps, when a player is threatened and is the victim of racist attacks that warrant police investigation, as was the case leading up to Game 4 of the St. Louis-Colorado series, coaches and managers and players will step back and remind themselves and everyone else connected to the game that some things are bigger than it.
Someday. Not now, though.
At the end of Kadri’s virtuoso hat-trick performance in Game 4, after he’d responded to the physical attacks on the ice from the Blues and after he and his family had endured social media attacks including threats and racial taunts, Kadri told the TNT broadcast panel that he tries not to make it a big deal but it is and that, for the haters, this was for them.
It is a big deal. And his response on the ice and his comments afterward were perfect.
But you know what would have been truly perfect?
If the moments leading up to Game 4 had reflected an understanding of what was at stake here.
And the fact that the moment proved too big for those who could have made a difference means this is yet another opportunity missed to show the world what league and its players are capable of.
What would it have taken for St. Louis head coach Craig Berube to have paused in his morning press briefing when asked about the Kadri situation to condemn the attacks?
Instead we got a terse no comment as though what was happening outside the walls of this series were far less important than what was going on within those walls.
Call it gamesmanship or part of the code or whatever, but make no mistake: by refusing to comment, Berube spoke volumes about an ongoing lack of empathy and understanding about the world and hockey’s place in it.
Did we learn nothing from the Chicago Blackhawks, which, as an organization in 2010, decided en mass that preparing for a Stanley Cup Final appearance that winning was more important than addressing the sexual assault of one of its own players by one of its own staff members in a timely fashion?
The Kadri situation is different but not different.
Taking the easy way out — no comment — sends the message that preparing for Game 4 was more important than addressing racism and threats based on race after Kadri was involved in a collision with St. Louis netminder Jordan Binnington in Game 3 that sent Binnington to the sidelines for the balance of the series.
Berube’s vague comments about Kadri’s reputation after the collision in Game 3 — one that did not warrant a penalty and for which no penalty was called — were ill-timed and served to fuel the heated nature of the situation.
But as more details emerged about what was happening leading into Game 4, including confirmation of police involvement and a comment from Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly to TSN’s Darren Dreger that the league was involved and overseeing heightened security at the Avs’ St. Louis hotel, it was clear this situation was far beyond a normal hockey play no matter how contentious.
So, where was the statement from the Blues that called out those « fans » who were involved in the attacks?
Surely, that was the bare minimum we might have expected from the organization.
But let’s stop talking bare minimum.
Colorado head coach Jared Bednar was effusive in his praise of Kadri after Kadri’s hat trick pushed the Blues to the brink of elimination late Monday night.
Fair enough, but even Bednar was circumspect in his responses to the Kadri situation before the game when surely the moment called out for more.
Maybe I live in a dreamworld.
But what a moment if would have been if Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog and St. Louis captain Ryan O’Reilly had come out together to meet with the media and denounce what had happened to Kadri.
What a moment if Berube and Bednar had sat shoulder to shoulder before Game 4 to call out those online cowards and their pathetic comments.
What kind of message would that have sent?
What if Blues players had taken a moment before the game to have spoken to Kadri to show him support?
Unthinkable prior to a playoff game? Apparently so.
What if the two teams had agreed to stand together with Kadri to show that hockey is about more than wins and losses?
What a powerful image that would have been.
We often ask ourselves as a game, as a society, a community: how do you fight racism? How do you fight hate?
It’s a fight that has to be taken into the light. It’s a fight that needs to be visible and tangible.
Instead, the moment passed with tiny mutterings. Instead we got a Blues team that self-destructed trying to gain revenge on Kadri with Pavel Buchnevich and David Perron both taking runs at Kadri that gave the Avs a two-minute 5-on-3 early in the second period. Seven seconds after those penalties ended, Kadri scored to make it 4-1 Avs, a goal that would stand up as the eventual game-winner.
The fact Perron went after Kadri and just missed with an elbow to head is equal parts pathetic and sad.
So, yes, what goes around comes around, and as Kadri noted so eloquently at the end, for the haters this is for you.
Still, whether the outcome was karmic or not, it’s hard not to feel more than a little sad at how this has all played out and how this is a reminder that with every opportunity wasted to say and do the right things, the game is diminished just a little.