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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?

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All photos by Sweetest Hockey On Earth’s Kyle M.

On July 1st — the first day of Free Agency — the Capitals dealt 23-year-old Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche for a first-round pick in the 2012 Entry Draft and a second-round selection in either 2012 or 2013. After weeks of speculation that pointed to Varly not returning to Washington and even potentially landing in the KHL, the Avalanche submitted an offer that General Manager George McPhee couldn’t refuse.

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