July 3, 2018 / 6:03 AM / a year ago

Tavares finds homecoming at Maple Leafs

(Reuters) - John Tavares could not resist the call of home, so he realized his childhood dream of playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs by joining the franchise and beginning a new era of his career.

FILE PHOTO - Mar 20, 2018; Brooklyn, NY, USA; New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) reaches for the puck defended by Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) during the second period at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Zavares, 27, grew up a Maple Leafs fan in Mississauga, Ontario, and when free agency granted him the chance to wear his beloved blue and white it was an opportunity he could not pass up.

The standout center left behind the New York Islanders to sign a seven-year, $77 million contract on Sunday. He celebrated the decision with a tweet that showed him as a kid wrapped in a Maple Leafs blanket.

“It’s not everyday you can live a childhood dream,” the tweet said.

“As a kid, cheering for the Leafs growing up, you start to get those feelings again, once I went through the interview process and got that and what it was like as a kid watching the Leafs and following my favorite players,” Tavares told reporters.

“I thought the timing was too good. It was an opportunity I didn’t want to turn down. I’m very fortunate to be here and call myself a Maple Leaf.”

Tavares spent nine stellar seasons with the Islanders, who drafted him first overall in 2009.

While in New York, Tavares thrived as a playmaker and has amassed 621 career points in 669 games. He also has 22 points in 24 playoff contests.

But the allure of the Toronto area always beckoned.

The Maple Leafs were one of six teams Tavares spoke with in Los Angeles last week, apart from the Islanders, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning.

“As we got back from L.A., I just felt like my heart was in two places: where I’m from, and a place where I’ve been for a long time that helped become the man that I am today,” he said.

“My gut was just tearing apart; my heart was tearing apart trying to figure out what I wanted to do. It was quite the process.”

Toronto defenseman Morgan Rielly is excited to take the ice with new All Star Tavares.

“Playing against him, we have learned how good he is, how hard he competes. He is big and strong and he moves well. We are lucky to have him and he’s going to be a big part of what we’re doing,” Rielly told the Toronto Sun.

Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los AngelesEditing by Amlan Chakraborty

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