Nazem Kadri walked out the front doors of the London Muslim Mosque on Saturday and hoisted the Stanley Cup as he celebrated winning hockey's highest trophy with his hometown community.
The 31-year-old won the Cup in June as a member of the Colorado Avalanche and is believed to be the first member of his faith to become an NHL champion.
On Saturday, Kadri made a point of including the Muslim community in the celebration, telling the crowd gathered at the mosque they were essential to his development as a hockey player, and a person.
"You guys have been supporting me from day one, which is something I always appreciate," Kadri told the hundreds who gathered at the mosque on Oxford Street West.
"These are the streets I grew up on, this is the mosque I used to come to, and everything has just seemed to come around full circle. I'm very appreciative, very privileged and honoured to be the first Muslim to bring the Stanley Cup to the mosque. It's a big deal. That's something that I'm always gonna respect and remember."
'Cheering me on since the first day I put on skates'
Kadri was born and raised in London. He also played two years of junior hockey with the London Knights before he was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2009. He played seven seasons in Toronto before being traded to the Avalanche in 2019.
"My friends and family here, they've been cheering me on since the first day I put on skates, and that's very inspiring and very motivating," he said. "I couldn't be more grateful to share this moment with you guys. London, Ontario ... we're Stanley Cup champions."
Many of the speakers acknowledged that London's Muslim community — about 30,000 in size — continues to suffer from an attack on June 6, 2021, that killed four members of a Muslim family while they were out for a walk. Police have said the family was run down intentionally as they stood on a sidewalk in what investigators say was a hate-motivated attack.
Dr. Munir El-Kassem, an Imam at the Islamic Centre of Southwestern Ontario, spoke at the mosque and alluded to the killings of four members of the Afzaal family, an event that brought politicians to the steps of the same Mosque days after the attack in a vigil to decry hatred and violence.
"We have witnessed many chapters on these steps," said El-Kassem. "Most of those chapters were to deal with tragedies, the last of which will stay with us forever. But we are a strong community who learns how to cope. Today we are going from that chapter to a chapter of ease that is a gift from the almighty God."
Kadri endured racism, Islamophobia
Some of the speakers also mentioned that Kadri himself had to ensure racism and Islamophobia as recently as this spring during Colorado's playoff run.
Many of those who lined the streets to get a glimpse of Kadri said they have been watching him for years. Many are young hockey players from Muslim families inspired to take up the game by watching the forward's ascent.
Alia Oozeer-Arfeen said she showed up at the mosque to meet Kadri and have him sign her hockey stick, which he did.
"It's a very exciting and exhilarating feeling to be here," she said. "This is something that the Muslim community can definitely celebrate. This is something that will inspire this community ... that anything is possible."
Kadri will have a chance to connect with another Muslim community when the NHL season starts this Fall. Last week, he signed a free-agent deal with the Calgary Flames.
From the mosque, the Stanley Cup travelled in a parade to downtown. Fans lined the streets, many wearing jerseys of Kadri's past teams, including the London Knights, Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche. At the park, an estimated crowd of more than 1,000 sat outside in the sun to catch the celebration.
Once arriving at Victoria Park, Kadri was awarded the key to the city by Mayor Ed Holder.