DENVER – The Colorado Avalanche have been the talk of hockey for weeks because of their fast start under a fiery new coach.
Now, they’re in the spotlight for an entirely different reason with No. 1 goalie Semyon Varlamov facing legal trouble in a domestic violence case.
This could be the kind of distraction that derails their momentum after a 10-1 start under first-year coach Patrick Roy. But the Avalanche insisted that Varlamov’s turmoil off the ice won’t affect their play on it.
“It’s an unfortunate situation and hopefully it gets resolved real soon, but we’ll focus on hockey right now,” forward Matt Duchene said. “That’s what we’re worried about.
“Nothing has changed for us.”
On Thursday, a judge said Varlamov will be allowed to travel with the team while prosecutors consider whether he should be charged with assaulting his girlfriend. The 25-year-old native of Russia was arrested the day before on suspicion of second-degree kidnapping and third-degree assault.
How much he will play until his case is sorted out remained unclear. He’s supposed to start in goal Friday night in Dallas against the Stars, but Roy wouldn’t say whether that’s still the plan. Varlamov did make the trip with the team.
“We’re going to take it one day at a time, like we’ve been doing all year long,” Roy said.
Varlamov made a brief appearance in court Thursday after spending a night in jail when he turned himself in on Wednesday. He stood next to his lawyer to face Denver County Judge Claudia Jordan, who ordered him to stay away from his girlfriend, Evgeniya Vavrinyuk.
The girlfriend told investigators that Varlamov kicked her in the chest, knocking her down, and stomped on her chest as she lay on the ground in her apartment, according to an arrest affidavit. She also accused Varlamov of dragging her by her hair and telling her that he would have beaten her more if they had been in Russia.
Robert Abrams, Vavrinyuk’s attorney, said the couple had been dating for a year and that Varlamov assaulted her on four other occasions. Abrams said this instance wasn’t the most serious, but that his client decided to tell police this time because after the assault she went home and found her things had been thrown into the hallway and her bank account had been cut off by Varlamov.
“She wants the world to know that this famous star is a mean, nasty and hostile individual,” Abrams said.
Varlamov’s agent, Paul Theofanous, said he “is completely innocent of all of these charges.”
Right around the time Varlamov appeared in court, his teammates took the ice for practice. In the locker room following the workout, players ducked and dodged questions about the case involving their goalie.
“We’re playing well right now and we’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “We’ve got to remember what makes us successful and that’s hard work and playing like a team. That’s where we are, we’re a group that works together and sticks together through anything.”
Backup Jean-Sebastien Giguere is prepared to fill in, should he be needed. He was initially slated to start against Montreal at home on Saturday, but that could change. He may just get the start Friday, too.
“That’s the job of a backup. You have to be ready for all kinds of scenarios,” Giguere said. “Sometimes, a goalie might get sick. Sometimes, he might get hurt in warm-up. Sometimes, he might be out for a month.
“You have to be ready physically and mentally for those kinds of challenges. I don’t know what’s going to happen coming up. … Whatever happened today, I’ll take care of it, try to face it, and move on to the next day and see what happens.”
Varlamov is off to a sizzling start this season, going 7-1 with a 1.76 goals-against average. He’s also among the league leaders in save percentage (.945).
“We all love Varly in here. I can’t say enough great things about him,” Duchene said. “We’re not allowed to comment on his situation, but it’s not going to affect us. We’re focused on (Dallas). We’re waiting to hear what’s going to happen. But it’s not affecting us at all.”
Giguere couldn’t agree more.
“A bunch of things can happen in a season. You have to be able to face them as a team,” Giguere said. “If we take that challenge on as a team, we’ll be OK.”
Associated Press Writer Colleen Slevin contributed to this report.