Varly’s teammates congratulate him on the win. (Photo credit: Nick Wass)
Photo credit: Patrick Smith
In April 2009, a young Russian goalie by the name of Simeon Varlamov started game two of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals after number one netminder Jose Theodore’s poor game one. The 21-year-old didn’t speak passible English, sported a unibrow, and soon became the talk of the NHL.
Varlamov allowed one goal in his first game and posted a shutout the next. In six games versus the New York Rangers, Varlamov allowed a mere seven goals. Though the Caps would eventually lose to the Penguins in game seven of the semifinals, it appeared that Washington had found their goalie of the future. But two years later, Varlamov (with the spelling of his name now changed to Semyon) was unceremoniously sent to the Colorado Avalanche for a pair of draft picks.
Varly had become Washington’s main goalie after Theodore departure, but after battling groin injuries as an explosive, athletic goaltender, he struggled to get back in the crease when healthy. Bruce Boudreau, the Caps coach at the time, seemed to favor fellow 2006 draft pick Michal Neuvirth. With his contract up at the end of the 2011-12 season, Varly wanted to be assured of starting spot. The Caps weren’t interested in that. On July 1, Varlamov was sent to Colorado. He signed a three-year contract with the team the next day.
Now, three years later, Varly was back in Washington to face Neuvirth for the first time. At least in the first round, he came out on top.
“I was so nervous,” Varlamov said in much improved English, as his teammates cheered him on in the background. “Lots of memories to play here. That was my first game since I left Washington, that’s why I think I’m too nervous in warmup. My legs were shaking. All of the first period, my legs shaking.”
“In the NHL, I’ve never played against him,” Varlamov said to Dater. “I played against him one time back in Russia, when he played for Dynamo and I played for Lokomotiv. I’m looking forward to playing against him. It’s going to be a tough game, for sure. He’s a great player.”
The game Varlamov speaks of was actually during the lock-out last season on October 22, 2012. He fails to mention a few tiny details. Dynamo would win 3-0. And Ovechkin totally scored on him.
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?
On January 13th, the KHL will host their fifth annual All-Star game at Cheylabinsk’s Traktor Sport Palace and two Washington Capitals players (that we wish were in DC right now) have been voted into the starting line-up by fans: Team West’s Alex Ovechkin and Team East’s Evgeny Kuznetsov. The exhibition, which is set to be played in Kuznetov’s hometown, will mark the first time that the Caps legend and his protégé have suited up against one another — well, that is if the NHL lockout rages on for another month. And if there’s a just and loving God, it won’t!
Those superstar numbers, however, hasn’t stopped Varly from being one with his people. Last night, in Yaroslavl, Varlamov participated in a charity circus performance, hosting over 1,000 kids from orphanages around the area. He signed autographs, answered questions from fans, and… dressed up in a sumo suit. That’s not a typo.
On Monday Nicklas Backstrom, sporting his new #99 jersey, made his debut for Dynamo Moscow and returned to a familiar spot: centering Alex Ovechkin on the top line. The BFFs clicked instantly.
Backstrom assisted on the first goal of the game, a snapshot by Ovechkin past Lokomotiv Yaroslavl goaltender (and former teammate) Semyon Varlamov on the power play. Ovechkin would add an assist in the third period (and also challenge half of Lokomotiv’s roster to a fight). Dynamo won 3-0.
Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirthspoke to the Czech website iSport.Cz on Monday, and boy oh boy did he have some fascinating opinions to share. Talking with František Suchan, Neuvirth departed from the meek personality he’s cultivated since joining the Capitals in ’08-’09 and spoke with remarkable candor about a wide range of topics. We’d like to direct your attention to his quotes on the goalie situation in D.C.— both last season and in the future. Neuvy says he considers Braden Holtby his “weakest competition” since he’s been in D.C., expresses his frustration over always being the “bridesmaid” in net, and admits that he urged Tomas Vokoun to sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The entire Russian national team was clearly elated to win World Championship gold this year, dominating their competition along the way and winning their final game 6-2. While there was a lot of the expected hugging and jumping around, former Cap Semyon Varlamov was especially overexcited, which led to a small mishap when he was handed the trophy.