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Varlamov Ready to Conquer Washington

[As promised, here is the remainder of the Sovietsky Sport interview between Pavel Lysenkov and Semyon Varlamov, and don’t forget to rate Varly in today’s Rink Wrap.]

Whenever an NHL player solidifies his place on a team, he is advised to buy a house. Have they talked about this with you yet?

“My dream is to sign a long-term contract with Washington. I still have two years to go on my rookie contract. I hope that everything will be OK and my career with the Capitals will turn out successful. I would really like to buy a house in Washington and live in this great city. It’s calm, quiet, and has things to see. It’s the capital of America. How cool is that?”

When the season ended, Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau called each hockey player in to see him and talked with him one-on-one. What did he say to you?

“Bruce said that he was happy with my work. ‘But when you come in September to training camp, you have to be 100% ready. We don’t just hand out advancements. You have to come and win your place in the net. It won’t be any other way, man. You need to prove yourself’.”


Washington has three additional goaltenders: Jose Theodore, Brent Johnson and Michal Neuvirth. Who will be your biggest competition?

“Nobody is going to concede the net. Everybody is going to be fighting. Of course, the main goaltender right now is considered to be Theodore. He’s a goaltender with a name, and he has a big contract. So my aim is to show my best game already in September. Show the trainers on the team that I’m ready to become number one.”

Neuvirth has also made a really good showing for himself. He won the AHL championship cup with Hershey, the farm club for Washington. Are you a little upset that Hershey went all the way without you?

“I don’t know that I would get an AHL championship ring just because I played a few dozen regular season games. It’s OK, really. In fact, I didn’t participate in any playoff games. Hershey won because of Neuvirth, who was named MVP of the playoffs.”

How do you properly pronounce the Czech goaltender’s last name?

“I couldn’t say exactly. In Russia it’s pronounced Niuvert, and in America- Noivert. But they couldn’t learn my name for six months. It was only after I started playing in the playoffs and a local commentator came up and asked me where to properly put the stress in my last name.”

In the most literal sense of the word, you made a name for yourself in the series against the Rangers.

“I agree. When a 20 year old goaltender debuts in the Stanley Cup playoffs and the team hosts the first round-a lot of people talk about that. I never expected that I would be put in net already in the second game of the playoffs and would play two rounds in a row. Although in April I was in really good shape and was able to show my best game.”

Evgeni Malkin looked stronger than anyone else during the Stanley Cup playoffs. So why during the Pittsburgh-Washington series did Crosby give you more problems than him?

“They told us that we had to hold back these two players. It would be easier if we could neutralize them. We were somehow able to hold back Malkin, but weren’t able to do anything with Crosby. What can you say when he makes eight goals from the crease?”

That he’s elusive?

“Sidney has a really good stance. Like a fighter. He is excellent playing rebounds. When we shook hands at the end of the series, Sidney said to me ‘You are an excellent goaltender, it was hard to deal with you’.”

Was it a compliment out of politeness?

“You need to ask Crosby if he saw something special in me” smiled Varlamov.

Did you keep up with the Stanley Cup final?

“I only heard the score. This season I got so tired of hockey that I just wanted to rest. Yes, I had some injuries and I didn’t play for a good bit of time. But when you are in such a small town as Hershey, where there isn’t much to do, this really presses on your morale.  Fatigue accumulated.”

So you didn’t root for Pittsburgh in the finals?

“I don’t have any leanings towards any other teams. My team is Washington, and when we fell out of the playoffs it didn’t make any difference then who won the Stanley Cup.”

THEY HAVEN’T CALLED ME TO THE TEAM YETDid Fedorov help you a lot during the playoffs?

“Serega is a really great guy. He really helped before my debut, when we played in Montreal (2:1). At that time I really wanted Fedorov to come up to me. That guy has a lot of experience. He’s won 3 Stanley Cups.”

“We sat together at the dinner table, and Sergei asked how I felt. I admitted that I was really nervous. And then Fedorov said something that burned into my memory. “It’s not the Gods who make the clay pots”. That was all it took to make the nervousness pass.”

“Sergei gave me a lot of attention during the playoffs. It will be very sad if Fedorov leaves Washington. He’s a leader on the team, and his help is priceless.”

What happened after you fell out of the quarterfinals?

“Together with my girlfriend we went away for a week to the Dominican Republic. What I liked was that it was peaceful and quiet there. We were the only Russians there. There were very few couples in the hotel. There was a quiet secluded beach, ocean, sand and elegant cuisine. Yeah, the vacation was expensive. But when you are in such a paradise you don’t think about the money.”

How will you be preparing over the summer for the conquest of Washington?

“On July 1 I’ll begin a morning ground exercise program which the club gave me. It’s calculated for a month and was put together by a physical conditioning trainer. The first of August I’ll go out on the ice-I’ll do that in Samara. Then, if I’m able, I’ll go for a few weeks to Finland to work with my goaltending coach.”

As I understand it, at the end of August you’ll join the Olympic team.

“I haven’t been invited to it yet.”

How can that be? Many fans believe that you deserve a trip to the Olympics in Vancouver. And Bykov and Zakharin came to Washington in March.

“At that time, Vyacheslav Arkadievich and I didn’t talk concretely about the team. Bykov simply said that he had my number and would call me if he needed anything.”

And if there isn’t any call?

“Couldn’t I go be part of the horde if they don’t call me?! But there’s a lot of time left until August. I hope that they’ll invite me to the team. I’d really like to be there, talking with the guys, hanging out together. That type of get-together is really important just before the Olympics.”


How would you rate your chances at going to Vancouver?

“I have to become the main goaltender for Washington and get as much playing practice as possible. If I don’t conquer this task, then I don’t think I’ll make it to the Olympics. Although on this topic, of course, it’s best to talk with Bykov and Zakharin.”

But it’s a dream?

“Of course. I’m just 21 years old. If I can make it to the Olympics at this age and we win, I would be one of the happiest people on the planet.”

They say that Team Russia is so strong that they could only be beaten by themselves.

“Canada also has a good team. But I agree, our team could potentially be the strongest in Vancouver.”

Have you talked about this with the Canadian defenseman for Washington Mike Green? He’ll surely be at the Olympics.

“And how would I talk with him, with my English language skills limping along. I started working on the language when I lived in Hershey, and then I came to Washington, where there were four other Russians besides me. And yet, my  English improved” smiled Varlamov.

How did you study it?

“I started watching more television. And my girlfriend also helped. A lot of Americans would be envious of how well she knows English.”

Several years ago Ilya Bryzgalov said in an interview with Sovietsky Sport that “If you want to become a great goaltender, you have to go to America”. Do you agree that they have the best goaltending school?

“It’s different for everybody. I don’t know how it is in other clubs, but I was lucky. When I started playing hockey in Samara, my first coach Alexander Endulov worked individually with me. He taught me how to skate and explained all the nuances. If I hadn’t fallen into his hands, I don’t think I would have made it to Yaroslavl.”

“I was lucky again at Lokomotiv. Goaltender trainer Oleg Semenov also spent a lot of time with me. He would say: ‘You, Semyon, have a great future. Just work hard and listen to me.’ It’s sad that he died two years ago. He gave me a lot. Without his help I wouldn’t have made it to my first team and wouldn’t have made it to the NHL.”

Do you remember that next season you can be considered for the Calder Trophy, the prize for the best rookie in the league?

“Yeah, I didn’t play many games during the regular season. If I’m lucky enough to win the trophy, I’ll have a reason to go to Las Vegas.”

Finally, can you name the hardest and the funniest moments from the season?

“The hardest was when I was injured. I didn’t play and that really strained me. And I gave a big laugh when we beat the Rangers in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Sanya Ovechkin came up to me with a sly grin and smiled at me, “Varlam, dude, congratulations!” I gave him a hug back, and at that moment I was hit is the face with shaving cream. I didn’t even see who threw it at me….”

Alexander Semin

“So it was Sema?!! I’m glad I closed my eyes” laughs Varlamov.


At the end of the interview Semyon Varlamov passed a facetious exam of hockey knowledge by Sovietsky Sport.

1.       Width of a hockey net? (183 cm)

“I saw this in a textbook! But I forgot… I think it is 180cm wide by 160cm tall. How high is it actually? 122cm? But you only asked for width, and I almost got it.”

2.       Name the fastest slap shot (169.6 km/h)

“I know for a fact that the record was established by Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara during the last All Star games in Montreal. It was something like 204 km/h. I saw on television how he shot. But I haven’t faced any shots like that in the NHL. In Russia Denis Kulyash has the most powerful shot.”

3.       How many times Was Tretyak a world champion? (10)

“Aaaaa, all of a sudden should I guess?  This is embarrassing! I know that Tretyak was a 3 time Olympic champion and, let’s say, a nine time world champion. What? I was almost right? Hooray! And don’t forget that he had two gold in Quebec in 2008 and Bern 2009 as the president of the RHF.”

4.       Vancouver is the capital of which Canadian province? (British Columbia)

“This is a great question. You definitely want to disgrace me. I played there in the youth world championships. But for the life of me I can’t remember. What?  Exactly… It was British Columbia, as they say there.”

5.       Who was Vezina? (Former Montreal goaltender)

“This is an easy one. He was an outstanding goalkeeper, he played at the beginning of the last century. The Vezina Trophy, the prize for the best goalkeeper in the league,  was established in his honor. I would be surprised if Vezina turned out to be a forward.”

6.       Which of the great NHL goalkeepers talked to the pipes? (Patrick Roy)

“Well I have two variations. Patrick Roy and Ron Hextall. The latter, as I recall, busted his head on the pipes and destroyed his sticks. Let it be Roy. Did I guess right? It was a lucky guess. I don’t personally talk to the pipes. I have enough other  superstitions.”    

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