With training camp in full swing and the preseason fast approaching, your old pal Slava Malamud over at Sport-Express is once again back on the hockey beat after a summertime diversion of covering soccer and velosports. In today's edition is an interview that Slava had with Semyon Varlamov after Monday's scrimmage.
The Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Russian Federation in Washington has arrived at work. I am speaking, as you know, of the Washington Capitals - the most Russian organization in the American capital as well as the United States in general. And if you think I'm exaggerating, then you know little about the history of the Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Representative of Russia on American soil. The history goes like this: first there was Alaska, then Smirnoff, then the Detroit Red Wings, then there was a little bit of Tatu, and now finally Ovechkin and his brigade. All of these are Russian things which the Americans have sampled, evaluated and even called their own.
And don't think that during the off-season this year when the Capitals lost two of their Russians (Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov) that they stopped being our main branch of the NHL. Who else could we give that title to? Way out in Columbus they have three of our guys (well, depending on whether or not you agree to count Maxim Mayorov), but you can't really say that Russians are terribly interested in the daily routines of the Blue Jackets. And I'm not even going to ask whether or not your attention was riveted to Los Angeles and the preseason plans of Frolov, Voynov and Loktionov.
In Washington, if you can imagine, the main topic of conversation at the beginning of training camp was something like this: "Will Semyon Varlamov be able to displace Jose Theodore in net?" By the way, he is now known as Semyon-the club and league have respected the wishes of the goaltender and have stopped calling him Simian. So, the chances for the Russian to achieve this should be pretty good. Varlamov's heroics in the last playoffs haven't been forgotten, and the level of confidence that Theodore will recapture the star which led him to a Hart and a Vezina at the dawn of the Bush administration has long been hovering around zero.
For Varlamov this is doubly important, since securing a spot on the team is his chance to go to Vancouver in February. However, for rookies in the NHL (unless their names are Crosby, Ovechkin or Tavares) nothing is guaranteed, especially when there is a veteran in their position who is being paid a lot of money. The head coach has repeatedly stated that the position in net will have to be fought for. By Varlamov, Theodore, and the Czech Michal Neuvirth.
The first battle of this campaign has ended for the Russian... and out of the spirit of optimistic patriotism let's call it a "withdrawal to a previously prepared position". In a scrimmage on Monday, Semyon allowed three goals-more than all the other participating goalkeepers. And they didn't come from Ovechkin, but rather from Bradley and Aucoin. Well, let's not lose our optimism so let's call it a successful cleansing of inter-seasonal rust. Especially since Varlamov himself was calm and cheerful after the end of practice. This, by the way, is his normal state.
Share your first impressions on returning to the team.
"First, I terribly missed hockey, the NHL, the local system and how they relate to the players here. I came to camp in very good condition. I worked out a lot during the summer, with a goaltender coach, on the ice, off the ice and in the gym. I've already gotten acclimatized and caught up on my sleep . In a word, everything's okay."
The Russian crew in Washington has shrunk. Do you feel any discomfort from that?
"Of course I wish there were as many Russian guys as possible, but I don't feel any discomfort. I speak English a bit better now and I already understand almost everything. So I even feel better now that I did last season."
If so, then it's time to have a talk with the coach about what he expects from you what you can expect this year.
"We haven't had that conversation. Right after the playoffs he talked to me and told me... that I'd come and would be fighting for a place in net, that he wouldn't give me any guarantees, that I had to work, and things like that."
That's what they always say to the young guys. So in your personal opinion, what do you think of your chances?
"To be honest, I try to not pay any attention to what is being said around me. You just have to do your job, practice, and get in shape. We've got some preseason games coming up, with Buffalo, Chicago and the Rangers, so after those maybe something can be perceived. Then I'll be in my definitive form. In today's scrimmage I felt a little off. In the summer I trained on the European rinks, and now I have to get used the smaller rinks again... But I'm not going to talk about whether or not I'll be the main guy. (What happens on) the ice will show that."
Is there a difference with the advent of the new goaltending coach, Artur Irbe?
"Of course. For instance, language problems have totally disappeared. It's really easy to work with Artur, and he helps me a lot. You could say, of course, that now I have less chance to practice my English, but this is nothing-I'll catch up with the guys. Now I understand 100 percent what the coach wants from me. Right now we have "хорошая связь" (good communications- S.M.)
Yes, you can see how you converse in Russian. Irbe, by the way, was always quite the unique player -in his dimensions, style, and his choice of equipment. He even played in the NHL wearing a never-before-seen prehistoric mask and pads. Is Artur teaching you any of his secrets?
"We just started working with him-we just met two weeks ago. But I feel like he can teach me a lot. Right now I've ordered some new equipment, and Artur came and helped me. You can tell immediately that he can help in these matters like nobody else. And it's always good when you're standing next to a guy who's played in the NHL at the highest levels."
So does this mean that he's teaching you his method for breaking in pads? You do know, don't you, that Irbe drove over them in a Jeep?
(Laughs) We haven't had any discussions about that. Every goaltender has his secrets for adjusting his equipment. I'll say right off that my methods are quite different."
About how many games will you play in the preseason?
"I don't have the slightest clue. Right now basically nobody knows anything-who, when, and against whom you'll play. We've just been given the training schedule and that's it. They'll probably say something the day before the game. So I have to be ready."