Kadri built for success

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

A Kadri family neighbour in north London draped a massive blue-and-white Maple Leafs rug over a backyard deck to welcome home Nazem Kadri from the NHL draft in Montreal.

"That's great," Kadri's father Sam said with his trademark grin. "We didn't say anything to them. They were watching."

Everyone is watching Kadri since the Leafs selected the London Knights scoring star with their first pick (seventh overall) on Friday.

Banking he'll eventually wilt under the bright lights in the big city?

Certain he'll be a bust because of huge expectations?

Concerned he might be distracted by a couple more cameras in his face every day once he skates with the big club?

This Kadri kid isn't wired that way.

He was raised to handle the heat.

"When I talked to (Leafs GM Brian Burke), he told me not to worry about anything and be ready for training camp," the 18-year-old said. "I know it's a highly advertised team. I know I'll be under the microscope but I feel like I'm prepared for that.

"I've always felt London is like a mini-Toronto."

And then there's the watchful eye of his family. The kitchen at the Kadri household might be the highest-traffic zone in London.

There are children running here and there, relatives popping in and out.

Nazem's four sisters -- Yasmine, 20, Sabrine, 14, Rema, 9, and Rayanne, 5, keep him hopping.

"It's a pretty female-dominated house in here," Nazem said.

His parents Sam and Sue keep him humble and grounded.

Whether it was his broken jaw costing him a spot on the Canadian world junior team this season or the Knights making him a healthy scratch for one game to prove a point to the rest of the team, they're there for support.

Rema had an asthma attack in Montreal before the draft so Sue ended up spending 48 hours in the hospital. Breathing easier afterward, she was able to make it back in time to hear his name called by the Leafs.

"That's what they've always done and that'll never change," Nazem said.

"They're always there to stand by you. My family has always done that. It's great for them that throughout my career, I played a 45-minute drive in Kitchener, then back home in London and now the Leafs are only a stone's throw away."

Sue describes a happy-go-lucky boy always full of energy and constantly smiling.

"That's because he's spoiled," Sam shot back with a laugh. "We have a pretty big family here. Whenever he had a big tournament the next day, we'd try to tell everyone to keep quiet. But Naz got used to a lot of noise very early on.

"It doesn't bother him."

He was happy because he was always playing hockey.

"We made family trips out of the tournaments," Sue said. "We'd all go stay at the hotel. I remember when Sabrine was one week old, we had her at the hockey rink for a game.

"One week old. I love to watch him play. We go to every game we can. But it was Sam who was the one who always drove him to all the practices."

The elder Kadri adored it.

A Lebanese immigrant whose father Nazem had to work hard to raise seven children, he never got the opportunity to chase the puck.

"I think it was watching all my peers play and wishing I could too," Sam said. "I wanted my son to have that chance. The 6 a.m. practices, I'd have the Tim's coffee and shovel away the snow so Naz could get to the car.

"I grew up right when Montreal was winning the Cup every year and that got me interested and why I cheered for the Canadiens.

"I've watched this (NHL) draft for years, since I was a little kid, and to see your son go up on to that podium, it's unbelievable. It doesn't matter if it's first round or seventh overall.

"Only 210 players in the world get picked each year to the NHL so it's special."

This is as Canadian a hockey family as it gets. But the Kadris realized there would be extra attention because of their Lebanese roots and Muslim faith.

Those kind of genes don't often end up on the ice.

"We're proud of our heritage, but I've always felt like it takes away from the hockey," Sam said. "It doesn't matter if you're Muslim, Christian or Jewish. If it helps more people play hockey because of it, great. And it's great that people will look at him as a role model and we want him to accept that.

"But he's 18 years old. He's going to make mistakes."

He certainly doesn't have a mistaken identity.

Nazem was president of the Muslim society at London's Lucas secondary school. This year, he honoured his grandfather by jumping into the glass in front of him at the John Labatt Centre when he scored a goal.

"I know he gets a kick out of it," young Nazem said.

There is a light-hearted, welcome feeling at the Kadri home. There is no hint of the pressure to come.

Twenty-eight years ago, the Canadiens picked Mark Hunter with the -- get this -- seventh overall pick in the NHL draft. The Knights GM knows what it's like to play in a fishbowl.

"I'm telling you it won't bother this kid at all," Hunter said. "Naz is hockey 24/7. He loves it and everything just rolls off his back. I've known him and watched since he was 8 years old and nothing intimidates or fazes him."

The biggest change in the Kadri household will be Sam's significant Canadiens collection. He's joining the ranks of his workers at the Automotive Tech garage with the blue and white.

"All that stuff's done now," he said. "I'm going to sell all of my Montreal stuff. I'm a Leafs fan.

"It was something to hear Toronto called to the podium and all the boos and 1967 chants.

"But when Naz was called, it turned really silent. Then, all you heard was: 'Kadri, Kadri.'

"The odds are against him making the Leafs this year but I tell you I think that's when Nazem is at his best.

"When people say he can't or isn't supposed to do something, he works even harder."

Pressure. Fishbowl. Expectations.

It'll all be swept under that blue-and-white rug on his neighbour's deck.


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