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|Varly's morale is crucial
25.02.2014. Hochman, BenjaminView Profile. Denver Post
The Russian goalie was suddenly a Russian comedian, cracking an uncomfortable silence with a self-deprecating crack.
"Sorry I didn't bring my gold medal with me," Semyon Varlamov told a gaggle of Denver reporters Monday.
He Yakov Smirnoff'd the situation, putting it all out there -- yep, he obviously didn't win a gold medal, or any medal, but now he's the Avalanche goalie, and there's nothing he can do now about the Sochi catastrophe.
It was a setback, there's no question. Varly himself didn't play that badly in the tournament. But the Russian hockey team failed to medal in its own Olympics, and Varlamov was yanked in the final game after allowing three goals on 15 shots.
In the coming weeks, there is a new type of pressure on Patrick Roy. The possible NHL coach of the year has resuscitated his old club, but now he and his staff must resuscitate Varlamov's confidence. This ain't X's and O's. This coaching job between the pipes is, really, between the ears.
The goalie says he's fine. Maybe he is. But in the coming games, Colorado will face top-notch teams such as the Los Angeles Kings, Tampa Bay Lightning, Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues. It's getting to be like an NFL season, in which every game matters in a tight playoff race.
Confidence is what makes goalies glorious. Joe Sakic knows -- he played with Roy. Now Sakic is an Avalanche executive, and he said Monday, when asked why Varlamov has been so successful this season, that it's "just confidence. You can just tell his confidence is staying big in the net. He's as good as any goalie there is out there. Goaltending is confidence, and he's got it."
It was a little thing, but I liked Varlamov's self-deprecating joke to open his interview session. It's a sign that he's able to put life in perspective. It reminded me of when Cherry Creek High School graduate Brad Lidge, an out away from the World Series, allowed a 2005 playoff home run to Albert Pujols, the homer a soaring swat. Lidge later recalled that on the flight back to St. Louis that night, a veteran teammate joked that there, out the window, the plane had just passed Pujols' home run ball. It diffused the situation. Yes, the homer stunk. Yes, not medaling stunk. But some players are seemingly able to push aside the mental obstacles. Lidge's Houston Astros, for instance, went on to win the next game in St. Louis.
Monday, the Avs' in-house reporter asked Varlamov two leading questions. The first was about leaving the Olympics behind and moving forward -- to which Varlamov said, yes, he'll be able to leave the Olympics behind and move forward -- and the other was about if playing in the Olympics actually helped his confidence.
"Yeah, of course, those games gave me huge confidence for the rest of this season, for sure," Varlamov said. "It was so much fun to play against the best players in the world."
An interesting answer. Again, he didn't play that badly, but to say he got confidence from his team's gargantuan failure?
Roy has been there. In 1998, his Canadian Olympic team didn't medal, though statistically Roy was Roysome. His past experience should help Varlamov. And Varlamov went through a bizarre, overwhelming distraction earlier this season -- with his arrest for domestic violence, and the charges later dropped -- and he proved he could play through that.
"Varly has been our MVP this whole year," Sakic said, "and I expect the same thing from him."
Varly can say all the right things. But we won't know if he still has confidence until it's too late -- or until we're on a flight to St. Louis, also for a playoff game.