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|Pucks stop here: Semyon Varlamov is playing so well, even the great Patrick Roy is impressed
19.01.2014. Dater, Adrian. Denver Post
He essentially had to relearn how to play the position considered by many to be the toughest of any to play in professional sports -- goaltender. He had to impress a coach who hadn't seen him play much before, a coach most consider the greatest goaltender to ever play, Patrick Roy. And he had to do all of this while seeing his private life dragged into public scrutiny.
Semyon Varlamov has had a lot on his plate these past few months, in other words. Through it all, he appears to have emerged stronger. The Sochi Olympics and a possible starting assignment for the host country beckon, followed by what should be a likely path to the Stanley Cup playoffs, followed by what could be a major payday with a new contract.
But the Avalanche goalie doesn't want to jinx anything now. If the recent past has taught him anything, it's that you don't take anything for granted.
"I have to look at it like I have not accomplished anything yet, to keep wanting more and to work harder for it," said Varlamov, who has the NHL's third-best save percentage (.929). "I try not to think about anything other than the next game, the next day in front of me. That has worked well for me this year."
Things are great for him now, but they were anything but great in late October. The whole world saw Varlamov grimly posing for a police mug shot after he was arrested on suspicion of domestic assault and kidnapping. In November, he was formally charged with third-degree assault by the Denver district attorney. On Dec. 20, the charge was dropped for lack of evidence. After Saturday's win at Nashville, Varlamov has not lost a start in 13 appearances since then.
Whether the elimination of the off-ice distraction has had anything to do with his improved play, Varlamov doesn't say. He refuses to say much when asked about the incident, and the dismissal of charges, preferring that it be forgotten.
But it doesn't take a genius to notice Varlamov's overall mood has been brighter since the case was dismissed. He talks in English much more clearly around the Avs' locker room, to the point where he can laugh and joke more with teammates.
He also has earned respect from teammates for not allowing the accusations affect the rest of the team, or his play.
"He's been our best player all year," said Avs winger Jamie McGinn. "He works so hard, it makes you want to work even harder for him."
Said captain Gabe Landeskog: "He gives us a lot of confidence. We know we have a chance to win every night because of him."
Roy bristled a bit recently when asked if Varlamov had picked up his play.
"No, it's been like that all year," Roy said. "He's been great all year. He has really worked hard and been receptive to what (goalies coach Francois Allaire) has tried to teach him. Right from the start, in meeting last summer with Francois and into the training camp, he has had a great attitude. It's fun to see him be rewarded for it."
Allaire got Varlamov to change the position of his catching glove, from down low by his knee to palms up, just below the shoulder. He also got Varlamov to focus more on making quick, controlled bursts side to side; he had a tendency before to slide out of position after making a save. "Push and plant" is one of Allaire's chief tenets for goaltending, and Varlamov has taken well to it.
Entering Saturday, Varlamov's 1,081 saves were second-most in the NHL, behind the 1,111 of Phoenix's Mike Smith. He is the favorite to be the starter for Russia in the Olympics next month in Sochi.
That is something Varlamov really doesn't want to jinx by talking about it.
"I'm trying not to think at all about the Olympics right now," Varlamov said. "It's still early, a lot of games left with us. I have to keep playing well -- and stay healthy."