Leo Komarov has been in Toronto the last couple of weeks for Maple Leafs prospect camp. Our own Andrey Osadchenko was able to catch up with him and discussed a little with Leo about his playing style (more on that can be read here), the rumours that Komarov is planning to return to the KHL, and last season’s Gagarin Cup Finals.
It seems it was only yesterday when you hoisted the Gagarin Cup wearing Dynamo Moscow jersey. You are now a Maple Leaf. Why did you decide to go overseas?
I wanted to come here even last year. We agreed with [Dynamo’s coach] Oleg Znarok that I would spend another year in Moscow. And we won the Cup. My contract with Dynamo is good for another year but they let me go.
It was reported that if you don’t make the Leafs’ roster before November, you would go back to Dynamo.
I think it’s more of a speculation rather than an actual thing. Of course, I think Dynamo would take me back. However, I will do my best to crack the lineup over here. If I won’t, I will think about it.
So you’re not planning on going to back midway through the season?
No. So far it’s not on my agenda.
Have you followed the Leafs?
I have. I wouldn’t say I watched every single game, but I followed them to certain extent.
Everybody in Russia knows what kind of player you are. What can you bring to the table for the Leafs?
I think they write a lot of lies about me in Russia. They say I’m an instigator and stuff like that. I think I’m simply a power forward. Perhaps, other players don’t like the way I play, but during my 3 seasons in the KHL I didn’t injury anybody or anything like that. I think, I’m going to play here in the same manner. I’m going to bump into people, fight against the boards and do everything I can for my team to win.
I don’t think Avangard players would agree with you.
Sure, I’m unpleasant to play against. But how many penalty minutes did I have in the final series? 10-12 minutes tops. I’d say it’s alright.
Do you like to be compared to Sean Avery?
Of course, I like when people write about me but I don’t want to look like Sean Avery. I’m not that kind of player. I’m like that, sure, but I can play differently too.
The final series must have been tougher for you than anybody else. You must have seen all those signs in the stands saying stuff like ‘People vs. Leo Komarov’, right?
Honestly, I liked it. My favorite sign was the one that had Fumitox on it (Fumitox is a brand of mosquito spray in Russia). It was like ‘Fumitox will deal with Komarov’ (‘Komar’ means ‘mosquito’ in Russian). That was pretty funny. As I said – I like it when people pay attention to me. If they do, it means you must have done something well. I mean, I don’t like it when people say bad things about me and call me names. But we won the Cup. It’s all that matters.
Media talked about ‘Komarov Factor’ in the final series. Do you feel like you were an important figure in Dynamo’s success?
I don’t. I mean, I wasn’t the worst player out there. I’m glad it turned out the way it did. In the series against Minsk I was playing being sick with fever. I played even though I could barely stand on the ice! I had zero points in 4 games. With Torpedo I had zero points in the first 2 games. Then I slowly started getting points. Not a lot of points, but still. And then in the final I had 2 goals in the first 2 games. And then I picked up my game. I was just trying to do something I know I’m capable of.
You must have heard that Avangard fans are not okay with the way the final series was refereed. True, Avangard has almost twice as many penalty minutes as Dynamo has. Do you think it has something to do with you and the way you play?
I wouldn’t say so. I mean, sure, they did get a few minor penalties on me but I wouldn’t call it the main reason for this differential. A lot of moments get decide the outcome of a game. I think we won because we were down in the series 1:3 and we played every game as if it was the last game for us. I think mentally-wise it was easier for us. Because we knew if we’d lose another game, the season is over for us. Avangard was in a different position – they just had to win another game. We tied the series and then we got a little lucky. Game 7 could have gone either way. We had a 5-on-3 powerplay and didn’t score. I thought back then: ‘Well, that’s it. We blew our chance’. Because if you survive a 3-on-5, you get psychological advantage. We were lucky [Jakub] Klepis banked one in.
Does all this speculation about the refs being bribed in the final series upset you? Or you just don’t pay any attention to it?
Well, of course, I’m not happy about it. I read a few times what people think about this but I don’t even want to comment on it. What can I say? Even if it’s true, I know nothing about it. We just went out there and played. And we won.
After Game 7 in Omsk you wanted to give a kid your hockey stick but some other guy intervened, grabbed the stick from the kid and threw it back on the ice.
Yes, this did happen. Some guy just grabbed the stick from the kid and tossed it away. I’m sad the kid didn’t get the stick.
Did you expect something like this to happen? I mean, you knew they don’t exactly like you in Omsk.
I didn’t expect something quite like this to happen. A present like this is dear to any kid who’s into hockey. If I were him, I’d be happy to get anyone’s stick. It’s a great thing! You’d cherish it forever! I mean, it may not be a great gift because it’s Komarov’s stick but still. A hockey stick is a hockey stick.
Did you get a present like this when you were a kid?
I had one, yes. I collect a lot of sticks, actually. I asked for hockey sticks everyone I play with.
Were you scared to leave Dynamo? Everything is going to be different in Toronto – it’s a different club, it’s a different league, it’s a different country…
No, I’m used to this. I played for 3 years for Pelicans and Dynamo. Hopefully, I came here for more than 1 year. It’s interesting. I need to live here and get more used to the local lifestyle, practice my English a little more and then we’ll see.
You were a 4th-liner on Team Finland. In Dynamo you were a top-6 forward. What line do you see yourself on with the Leafs?
3rd or 4th, I guess. It’s hard to tell, really. Of course, I’d love to play on the first line but it’s going to be difficult for me to get there. It’s not even my goal at this point. There’re going to be much better player than me up there. I’d like to make the team first. I want to be useful for my team. I’ll do whatever my coach tells me.
What if they going to send you down to the Marlies after the camp and you’re going to get stuck there?
I’m worried about it, yes. I have to work hard. I have about 2 or 3 months to get ready. If that’s what they’re going to do, fine. I can’t really control it. I do hope to make it to the NHL, though.
Moscow doesn’t have a lot of hockey fans. It’s going to be a different story in Toronto. Does this add any pressure on your shoulders?
I don’t know. I felt comfortable in Moscow. Nobody bothered me out there. Maybe I’ll like it when everybody follows you around. So far I don’t know this. It may be good and may be bad. I like to be surrounded by a lot of fans, though.
The Leafs didn’t have a lot of luck recently with Finnish players – Jussi Rynnas, Niklas Hagman and, of course, Vesa Toskala.
Yeah, I heard about it. But then again I haven’t proven anything here yet. We’ll see how the season goes.
Do you get a lot of new followers on twitter when you signed with the Leafs?
A little bit, yes. But I don’t use too much. A buddy of mine told me about it and I registered on it, but I hardly ever use it.
I don’t like it. I like Facebook more. And VK.com.
Are you concerned that you may lose your spot on Team Finland?
I was thinking about it. You know, I played at 4 World Championships already. I think, the coaching stuff knows me pretty well by now. I’m always ready to go and play for my country if I can. I like participate in international games. But I’m the one who decides this, it’s the coach.
Who gave you the best advice before you left for Canada?
I can’t point out just one person, really. There were a lot of people who told me what to do and gave me advice. Everybody chipped in.
What did Oleg Znarok told you about your decision?
Oleg really helped me in the past 2 seasons. I became a much better player. Of course, I felt sad that I had to leave, because we had a great group of guys and the coach was just terrific. We talked it over with Oleg. There were no problems. Maybe one day I’ll come back. Who knows?
Players of your age usually think about going to the KHL, not the other way around. Why did you wait for so long?
It’s not like it was me who had to decide. They just didn’t want to see me here. They showed some interest only last season but I decided to stay. And we won the Cup. I don’t have anything to win there anymore. Sure, everything was good in Russia for me but I still dreamed of making it to the NHL. Maple Leafs are a great hockey club. And I like the city. I have a chance to play here and this is why I came over.