Saturday night, Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov drove up to Atlantic City to watch the WBO light heavyweight champion of the world, Sergey “The Krusher” Kovalev, box Blake Caparello. Kovalev hails from Chelyabinsk, Russia, Kuznetsov’s hometown, and won via a vicious TKO in round two.
Former Capital Semyon Varlamov had an incredible year for the Colorado Avalanche, taking the Avs from last to first in the standings. He is likely to win the Vezina Trophy in June as the league’s best goaltender.
Unfortunately for Varly, this season — like many in the past — ends with a bitter taste in his mouth. Semyon Varlamov played in another game seven, and Semyon Varlamov in game sevens is not very good.
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!