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Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov has learned from the best
15.04.2014. Dater, Adrian. Saint Paul Pioneer Press

Semyon Varlamov seemingly has come out of nowhere to become a top goalie. But there was a reason the Washington Capitals used a first-round pick to draft him in 2006 when he was an 18-year-old playing in Russia: He has always had major talent.

It wasn't until Varlamov was reinvented as a goalie last year, starting with a summer visit to new Avalanche goalies coach Francois Allaire in Switzerland, that his promise was converted into big-time success.

While Allaire and Avs coach Patrick Roy have played major roles in Varlamov's emergence this season, none of it would have been possible without the time and dedication put in by a goalie who once had a reputation for not working as hard as he needed.

"I admit, I never worked as hard as I have this year," said Varlamov, who set an Avalanche franchise record with 41 victories, topping Roy's mark from the 2000-01 season. "But once I saw what they want to teach me, it makes me want to work harder. I knew this could make me better."

Varlamov, 25, is a contender for the Vezina Trophy, given to the NHL's best goalie as judged by general managers. A year ago, many wondered if the native of Samara, Russia, would have a future in Denver beyond the forthcoming final year of his contract. His statistics from the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season were among the worst in the NHL for No. 1 goalies: 11-21-3 record, with a .903 save percentage and a 3.02 goals-against average.

Suddenly, two of the biggest names in the history of goaltending -- Roy and Allaire -- were to become his new bosses after sweeping changes in the front office. Roy couldn't have been too impressed with Varlamov's numbers, but he decided he would give him a chance. He had one warning for his young goalie: Allaire is a taskmaster and he might be asked to change his style to succeed.

It was during a weeklong visit with Allaire in Switzerland, where the coach runs an offseason camp for goalies, that the first positive indications surfaced about Varlamov's willingness to work hard as well as adapt. Varlamov also spent two weeks in Montreal last summer working with Allaire and backup Avs goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

"I saw a guy who was really committed to almost starting over in some ways, which is a really tough thing to do when you're already a pro," Giguere said. "But the same thing that happened to me when I first played for Francois in Anaheim, I could see happening to Varly too. You just have to really put in the time and effort, but the reward is there if you are willing to push yourself. But it's not easy."

Varlamov was thrilled to suddenly be under the tutelage of the coach who was credited with mentoring his boyhood idol, Roy, as a young player with Montreal in the 1980s. Previously, the job of goalies coach belonged to Kirk McLean. Privately, there was some grumbling among the goalies about McLean's methods, along with him being available only on a part-time basis.

Although the job still was classified as part-time, Allaire was around the Avs much more this season, and on the days he wasn't, there was always a guy named Roy for the goalies to bounce ideas off. It didn't take Roy long to believe Varlamov was a guy he could both work with and believe in. It all came down to work ethic and a willingness to listen.

"He was very receptive to our teaching," Roy said. "He worked extremely hard. I could see it, and so could Francois. It was a matter of putting the lessons into place, and he (did) the rest."

"He's been our MVP all year, no doubt," Avs captain Gabe Landeskog said. "He's given us a chance to win some games that we might not always have deserved."

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