[Many thanks to reader and fan Emily for pointing me towards this too-cute-for-words interview, photo shoot and video with wunderkid goalie Semyon (that's how I'm spelling it and that is that) Varlamov and his sweetheart, Dasha. This appeared today on website for the Russian glossy magazine "OK!"]
He left for America in September of last year to join the Washington Capitals-- one of the best hockey teams in the NHL, if not the world. After a few practices with the main stars of the league-- Ovechkin, Fedorov, Semin, Kozlov, Pothier, Nylander and others-he was sent down to the farm club, where he vegetated until the spring of this year. It wasn't good fortune, but rather bad luck that helped him out: Washington's main goalkeeper was seriously injured, and his backup couldn't help him out, so 20-year old Semyon Varlamov was put in front of the net. His debut didn't occur during a regular season game, but rather in a quarterfinal battle for the most prestigious hockey trophy on earth-the Stanley Cup. And Varly, as Semyon is now called in America, didn't falter. Even though in the end Washington didn't win the cup-they lost in the semifinals to the future trophy winners, the legendary Pittsburgh Penguins-this fall Varlamov will return to the American capital as goaltender number one. Right now he is on vacation, and he's spending it in Russia with his sweetheart, Dasha. "OK!" Magazine caught up with one of the best Russian goalkeepers on the eve of his departure for his native Samara.
You were invited to Washington back in 2006. Why did it take two years for you to get to America?
"I had signed a three year contract with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. I had to spend two years with them, and the third year was optional. I didn't want to cheat my team."
They say that in the NHL it's more difficult for a goalkeeper to make a place for himself than for other position players. Is that true?
"Yes. There is a lot of competition for goalkeepers. When I went to Washington last year to the rookie camp, there were five of us there. All of us were about the same age, and all of them seemed to be worthy."
None the less it was you who was chosen to be put in net at the end of the season.
"Up to that point I had played a lot of games in our farm league team. I tell you, the level of play there is quite high. Perhaps it might not be worth it for some regular player to play there, but for a goalkeeper it was excellent experience. They shoot just as many goals on net as they do in the NHL. I gained some pretty good experience before I made it onto the regular Washington team."
How did it come about that you made it onto the regular team?
"I am more than happy to tell you about how I almost turned grey-headed. (Laughs). I had returned from Texas after a regular game with the farm club, when all of a sudden Sasha Ovechkin calls me and tells me that the goaltender Theodore had injured himself in Washington and I had to be ready to be called up. Not long after that a car came to pick me up and take me to the airport. When I learned that they were entrusting the net to me in a battle against Montreal, I got extremely nervous. I couldn't believe what was happening. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat. Before the game, in the locker room, I couldn't find a place for myself. I wasn't even able to tape my stick! It was just then that Sergei Fedorov came up to me and told me "Don't worry, everything is going to turn out fine. It isn't the Gods who make the clay pots." And as soon as I came out on the ice, it all left me. For some reason, at that moment I knew I was going to play well."
The premonition didn't let you down.
"Right, although the match was difficult, and I was really tired. I denied 33 shots, which took the wind out of our opponent. Montreal's main star, Ilya Kovalchuk [sic] came by and ran into me. But his partner Andrei Markov shouted at me "Varlam, good catch!" (smiles). When the final horn sounded, I cried from happiness. Then my teammates, Ovechkin and Semin hit me in the face with a shaving cream pie. That happens in the NHL. In the locker room everybody congratulated me on a successful debut."
In the Russian press you were immediately turned into a hero. They wrote that Varlamov was carrying Washington and that you were 99 percent of the success of the team. Was there a reaction like that in America?
"There were a lot of things written there, but I tried to not pay attention to any of it. I didn't read the papers and I didn't even turn on the television. I understood that I hand to concentrate solely on the game."
So you weren't able to feel like a star?
"Only if it was a very small one. (smiles). The stars are Ovechkin, Fedorov, Semin, Kozlov. People who've already made a name for themselves in the NHL. I've just started on that path. Ever since childhood I've dreamed of becoming a world-class star, but I still have to get used to all of the hullabaloo. For example, getting used to seeing people wearing jerseys with your name on it. They say that they are selling a ton of those jerseys."
Have any personal admirers emerged?
"I have a true love, so I don't look at any other women. You know, I'm extremely fortunate that I met a Russian girl in America. It's difficult to look at a lot of the local women. You get the feeling that just don't take care of themselves! There are an awful lot of heavyset ones. But Russian girls have nice trim figures. I couldn't imagine myself being with an American girl."
Does your girlfriend go to the hockey games?
"Before she met me, she didn't go. Now you can see her at every game. I find it unbelievably nice when Dasha sits in the stands and roots for me. Especially since there are a lot more guys than girls amongst the fans. Although not too long ago a lady came up to me with a babe in arms..."
... and said that the child was your?...
"No. (laughing). She handed the kid towards me and asked me to autograph. I asked her "where?". It turned out that the lady had specially made a tiny hockey jersey for the kid and had "Varly" written on it. It was very touching."
Do you talk with the fans in English?
"Yes, but of course it is broken. I thought that after the first season I would speak English well. If I had spent all my time on the farm team, where I was the only Russian, then for sure that would have happened. But after I came to Washington I basically dropped my English. I basically talked with my fellow Russians. There were four of them, after all."
I don't know which is better.
"Without a doubt it is better to play in Washington and not know any English that play on the farm team and speak beautifully. (laughs). But my progress in learning the language is still in the forefront. I'm working with a coach. It's not too much of a strain to give interviews."
By going abroad, did you lose or gain materially?
"I lost. But that's no secret. This season, I basically didn't make anything. My salary was three times larger with Lokomotiv. In an NHL contract, it states that if you play for the main team you make so much money, and if you play for the farm team you make a different amount. If I had played all my games with the main team, then I would have made a lot more money than with Lokomotiv. I hope that in the coming year I can improve my financial situation."