The 2013-14 season was an unforgettable one for Semyon Varlamov. Statistically, it was the best among his first 10 years in North America. It was also the season he discovered the goaltender he could become, and he did it under the watchful eye of his childhood hero, Patrick Roy.
It didn’t take long for Roy, the legendary goaltender whose number was retired by the very Avalanche with whom he was beginning his big-league coaching career, to make an impact on Varlamov. The then-25-year-old netminder was two seasons into his tenure in Colorado, and while he had taken the starting reins, he had failed to live up to the promise he had shown as a young, standout backup with the Washington Capitals. But shortly after Roy was named coach of the Avalanche, he began imparting his Hall of Fame wisdom in an effort to grow Varlamov’s game. “I remember my first practice in Montreal,” said Varlamov, speaking of his summer training session with former Avalanche goalie coach Francois Allaire. “(Roy) came to me and gave some tips right away because he was watching my first goalie practice. He was really involved in the goalie situation all the time.”
It was under the tutelage of Roy and Allaire, a tandem that won two Stanley Cups together during Roy’s playing days with the Montreal Canadiens, that Varlamov went from a mid-level starter who had yet to unlock his potential to a top-tier keeper that a team could build around.
While Roy was offering advice of his own – Varlamov said he felt as if he had two goaltending coaches, a luxury that few netminders ever have – Allaire was helping rebuild his pupil’s style. Slowly but surely, they put the pieces together over the off-season, and the relationship grew along with it. “He was a good teacher for me from Day 1 I met with him,” Varlamov said. “I spent three years working with him, and I’ll never forget how excited I was every time I came to the practice rink, to see him as a goalie coach. I really enjoyed working with him.”
It helped, of course, that Varlamov was seeing instant results. From the outset of the 2013-14 campaign, he won his first five starts and nine of his first 11 games, boasting an otherworldly .936 save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average. By mid-season, Varlamov had paced the Avalanche to a stunning record with numbers in the same vicinity as the league’s best netminders. And when the campaign closed, Varlamov wasn’t just in the Vezina Trophy conversation, he was among the frontrunners thanks to his .927 SP, 2.41 GAA and league-leading 41 victories.
Varlamov didn’t win the award, but the part he played in the Avalanche tying a franchise-record 52 wins, finishing atop the supremely competitive Central Division and earning a playoff berth for the first time in three seasons saw him finish fourth in Hart Trophy voting. That was a full seven places higher than Boston’s Tuukka Rask, to whom Varlamov lost the Vezina. Colorado fell short of any playoff success, but Varlamov’s career was forever changed. For that, Varlamov, now a veteran who has maintained his status as one of the best goaltenders of the past several seasons, credits Roy and Allaire. “From a decent goalie I became a goalie who was nominated for the Vezina Trophy after spending only one year working with those two guys,” Varlamov said. “They were very helpful to me and this team. I’ve always appreciated what they’ve done for me, both of them, and I respect them both very much.”
Born: April 27, 1988, Samara, USSR
NHL Career: 2008-present
Teams: Wsh, Col
Stats: 193-150-41, 2.65 GAA, .916 GAA, 23 SO
All-Star: 1 (Second-1)
DID YOU KNOW?
Varlamov spent his rookie NHL season being called by the wrong name by play-by-play announcers and fans. The clarification came in the 2009 playoffs when he cleared up the pronunciation of his surname – the emphasis goes on the second syllable, not the first. Varlamov then registered an official name change with the NHL after his rookie campaign to correct the spelling of his first name from Simeon to Semyon.