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Varly and trainer Steve Saunders. (Photo credit: Power Train Sports Institute’s Instagram page)

It seems like such a long time ago, but a few years back the Washington Capitals would almost always have a Russian on the ice. Not Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Viktor Kozlov, or Sergei Fedorov. It was Semyon Varlamov. At least, when he wasn’t struggling with groin injuries.

Varlamov, who at times looked more like an Olympic gymnast than a traditional NHL goaltender, had the talent to become the franchise’s long-term solution in net. After replacing Jose Theodore and dominating in the 2008-09 playoffs, Varlamov failed to lock down the starting position the next season. Because of injuries.

Varly’s injuries were made worse after rehab starts in Hershey. The next season, Varly battled with Michal Neuvirth for the number-one spot and again would was plagued by the same issues, again making another rehab trip to the Capitals’ AHL affiliate.

The Caps eventually dealt Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche for draft picks during the summer of 2011, allowing the Avs to take all of the risk with Varly after his cheap entry-level contract expired. Since then, the Samara, Russia native has found his groove. After averaging 30.7 NHL-AHL appearances from 2008-11 with Washington and Hershey, Varlamov played in 53 games with Coloardo in 2011-12 and 51 in 2012-13 combined with Colorado and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. So what changed?

During Varlamov’s time with the Bears, the Russian goaltender was introduced by one of Hershey’s doctors to the very American Steve Saunders, owner of the Power Train Sports Institute up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. During the summer of 2011, Varlamov exclusively trained with Saunders, giving the man who primarily worked out local football and baseball stars (and once Miley Cyrus) his first major hockey client.

“[Varlamov is] a very explosive guy,” Saunders explained to ABC27′s Gregg Mace. “The way he changes directions, as explosively and as fast as he does, we need to make sure those muscles are strong. And not only those muscles, but the muscles around it. That’s really where he’s had the problem.”

Saunders’ training regiment for Varly gave the young Russian the strength and confidence he needed to improve his game. Varly communicated his positive experience with the Head Coach of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, Tom Rowe, while he played with his former Russian team during the lockout.

Rowe, formerly an assistant coach with the Carolina Hurricanes, moved to Russia to lead Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in its first full season after its tragic airplane crash. When asked after the season by the team’s president, Yuri Yakovlev, how to make the team better, Rowe suggested that the team train with Saunders. Yakovlev agreed and opened up his checkbook, flying the entire Lokomotiv team out to Pennsylvania to train with Varlamov’s trainer for five weeks. Their time there was documented brilliantly by ESPN.

Varlamov’s success with Saunders has led to even more hockey players going there to train. With training camp wiped out due to the lockout last season, Garrett Mitchell, the Hershey Bears most improved player for the 2011-12 season, sweated out his fall months at Power Train Sports Institute’s Palmyra facility. He also trained there during the season to supplement his in-season team conditioning program with the Bears.

“It’s just a different way of training,” Mitchell told The Patriot-News’ Tim Leone. “Everything is really slow. It really breaks your muscles down and then gives them time to build back up.”

Mitchell continued, “Going in there the first time, it’s completely different than anything I’ve ever done in the sense that everything they do is specific to each individual. I think it has a huge effect on your body, being able to stay in shape and prevent injuries.”

Mitchell was named the Bears’ most improved player for the second year in a row.

Now it’s August. The summer is over, and for most NHL players the time is now to ramp up their training sessions for the next season. The loyal Varlamov is right back where he was during the summer of 2011, with Saunders in Lancaster. But this time he brought along two of his former comrades for the ride: Caps prospects Dmitry Orlov and Stan Galiev.

Last year, Orlov was supposed to spend the entire season in Washington, improving upon his break-out rookie season the year before. Instead, Orlov struggled with two concussions in Hershey, never regaining his previous form. Galiev, who was ranked the #29 prospect in the NHL by Hockey Prospectus, struggled in his first professional season in the Capitals’ organization, spending most of the time with the ECHL’s Reading Royals.

Orlov and Galiev now have their own specialized regiments with Saunders, and they, just like Lokomotiv Yaroslavl a few months before them, have been running the same Millersville University steps.

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Saunders and a Lokomotiv player. (Photo credit: ESPN)

Varlamov and Orlov run the stairs.

“The running joke on the staff was that we don’t want any international incidents while they’re here,” Saunders said to ESPN.com while he trained Lokomotiv a few months earlier. “Having them in Lancaster gave me a lot of control. And it gave them nothing to do.”

With Orlov and Galiev looking to re-find their way, spending August in Amish Country with nothing else to do but train might be exactly what they need to take the next step in their careers. Varlamov may not have become the starting goaltender in Washington like he planned, but because of him, the Caps are a bit closer to always having a Russian on the ice.

Photos and Video

Saunders has been documenting the Russian trio’s work-outs this summer on the company’s Instagram page.

Orlov working out his legs.

Galiev working his arms and core.

Varly working out his arms and core.

Varly does some impressive jumps.

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Orlov and Galiev gassed after running the stairs.

  • BD

    Nice article! Varly spent around 2 months working at Power Train in 2012 in July-September as well. He was there up until the lockout started and he went to Lokomotiv. Steve Saunders has a couple pics of Varly in 2012 on his IG:

    http://instagram.com/p/ZwrI23AOTI/

    Varly and Ainars Podzinsh, KHL player
    http://instagram.com/p/Zwrng1AOT8/

    He also worked out on ice in Hershey Park Arena and in Lancaster in 2012.

    https://twitter.com/Devo419/status/237679004549804032/photo/1

  • Christina Marie

    PLEASE let him have a good season

  • Ryan

    damn it dude! i graduated from Millersville and live literally two minutes from the powertrain facility where Varly and co. were at, AGAIN. Ian i need some advance notice when the russians sneak into town again next time so i can go stalk/ er i mean try to get some pictures with them…

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian Oland

    Photos AND maybe if they’re in a good mood that day, they’ll tie you to the back of Varly while he runs the steps. Let’s up the difficulty a bit!

  • JC Egresitz

    Darn it.. I take a semester off from school at Millersville and the Caps MAGICALLY show up on campus.Just my luck!

  • Freedoooom

    Its inside a Planet Fitness….. Strange.

    This is the place that encourages people to push button that blares a 120 db alarm because someone did the unthinkable, dropped a weight.

    Also the common factor on these players is Mark Gandler is their agent. Nichushkin and Buchnevich were training with him too.

  • Starlet

    So glad you keep posting articles about Varly…he will forever be my favorite Cap (or ex-Cap, rather) because he caught my eye with some of his impressive goalie tricks the first time I ever went to Caps practice. Miss that guy!