TORONTO - He was on a jubilant plane ride back to Moscow, basking in the KHL championship he and his teammates from Dynamo had just captured when he sidled up to the head coach.
Leo Komarov was there to inform his bench boss, Oleg Znarok that he was leaving; walking away from what had become his home in Russia to chase his dreams in the NHL.
"I told him 'I've got a dream and I want to go over and try it, if I can make it'," Komarov recalled of the conversation which took place high above the Russian sky. "He wasn't happy maybe, but [the organization] told me 'If you want to go, we'll let you go'."
You could say it was déjà vu.
A fan favourite in the Russian capital, Komarov had intended to leave the KHL a year earlier, but was urged and ultimately convinced to stay at that point by Znarok, who offered Komarov an increased profile with Dynamo. "He promised me [that] he'd give me more ice-time and things like that," said Komarov, who also served as captain throughout the season. "I'm glad I stayed over there because we won the championship."
Dynamo edged out Avangard Omsk in seven games to claim the Gagarin Cup and while Komarov still had one year remaining on his contract, the club allowed him an exit to chase his ambitions, something the two sides had agreed on a year prior.
A sixth round pick of the Leafs in 2006, Komarov had always dreamed of lacing up his skates in the NHL. Fully aware of the potential for a lockout this fall, the 25-year-old believed it was time anyway to make the leap, ready to measure himself in "the best league you can play in".
"It's maybe that whole thing about I want to try and see if I can make it," Komarov explained. "If not, then I'm going to live with it. But if I [stayed] in [the] KHL, yeah it's good money, it's nice to be there, but then when I'm 40, [my kids] are going to ask me 'Why didn't you play in the NHL?'"
Komarov has nothing but praise for the Kontinental Hockey League. "Russia is wonderful," he said. It's clear though that the seeds of an NHL dream were simply engrained from within. Every morning in his adopted homeland Komarov would flip on the television, peruse the scores and stats from across the ocean, before zipping over to NHL.com for the latest news. He'd also pepper the minds of former NHL players (and current KHL players) such as Alexei Zhitnik, Danny Markov Miroslav Satan, and Jiri Hudler, assured by each that his venture would be worth the while.
The lockout is stalling his chase at the moment, so for now Komarov will line up as a pesky agitator for the Marlies. He'll have to wait to grapple with the NHL, but 15 years down the line when he's approaching 40, he can at least tell his kids he took a shot.
"And now they can ask if I didn't make it, I'm going to tell them 'I didn't make it' and if I make it they're not going to ask why didn't you play over there. That's the point."