Vitaly Samoilov is an Olympic champion, a former goalkeeper of team USSR, Dynamo Riga, Sokol Kiev, he coached Latvia's national team and Novokuznetsk Metallurg. At one time he worked with Artur Irbe, the first goalkeeper from the Russian hockey league who was able to entrench in the starting lineup of the NHL club.
Is Varlamov's successful debut in the NHL a revelation for you?
I have closely followed Simeon all these years when he was in Russia. A year ago one could see his weaknesses about which I've talked before the superseries with Canadian juniors. It is a pity that it affected the outcome of the series. Alas, there were no serious goalkeeper coaches to work with him in Russia.
But after the New Year Lokomotive hired a specialist from Finland, and we saw a different Varlamov. He gained technically and started to show more rational game. The best goalkeepers of the world, Brodeur, Kiprusoff and others, play in this style. And after Russian Superleague's playoff finals Simeon went to North America as a quite a different person. He gained self-confidence in himself and in his abilities. He was ready for the new tests.
However he was immediately sent to the Farm Club after the training camp.
If you examine goalies who played in the NHL, even the greatest had to start from the second roles. Irbe, Khabibulin, Nabokov, Bryzgalov, they all played in the lower leagues. In a situation with Varlamov, staying in the AHL made him only the better. He adapted to a new hockey style, to the arenas, to the atmosphere, got accustomed to a public pressure which is different from what we have in Russia, overcame the language barrier.
Varlamov himself believes that the AHL level is lower than Russian league's level.
We can say that AHL is a mandatory program for the above reasons. It used to be a lot harder for our goalkeepers to come to play in North America compared to the current generation which is more adapted to the realities of the life. In previous years they'd fall into completely different world which naturally would affect their psychology. I can say that in the NHL it is somewhat easier to play for a goalkeeper. You can read the game while in the AHL it is too chaotic, many players have problems controlling the game, there's a lot of confusion. As a result there are a lot of ridiculous goals.
Playing in Montreal, known for their crazy fans, is always a test for the newcomer, especially for the goalkeeper.
I believe that Varlamov was fortunate to play his first game in the hockey Mecca of Canada. There is a unique aura, it pushes you to be prepared to the toughest test and leaves no room for unwanted emotions. It could be all different if it would be a home game for Simeon. And, of course, it certainly helped to have fellow countrymen in Washington, Ovechkin, Semin, Fedorov, Kozlov.
What can we expect from Varlamov in the near future, besides him there are two goalkeepers including expensive Theodore?
If Simeon will produce a series of successful games it will give the club's management a serious thought. However the next game will be already much more difficult for him because everybody would expect a repetition of the Montreal's game. In the current situation the main thing for him is to show up himself. To show Washington's bosses that they can count on him at any time. The first step in this direction has been already made.
How do you see Simeon's prospects in the NHL in general?
Simeon's work attitude (and I saw him training in Yaroslavl) reminds me of Artur Irbe, who was 50% self-made goalie. I have flown to Irbe in San Jose to help him. He used to come to training earlier than any other team player, worked independently for an hour off the ice. He worked out like crazy. That's why he was able to carry Carolina to the Stanley Cup finals. If at that time he wouldn't have family problems I am confident that his team would win. Varlamov is from the same breed as Irbe. I was fortunate to get to know Hasek and Brodeur, even when they train, they wouldn't allow more than 6-7 goals in hourly training. You can say anything about the statistics, but in this case it says a lot since those goalkeepers allow only one or two goals per game.
I'd like to note that Simeon is very self-confident, as it was evidenced by his interview. He knows what he should say and how he should behave. He gave up a lot of money at home and took all the risks to become a better goalie in North America. Perhaps Russia did not produce such a talented young goalkeeper since Tretiak.
By Tarik El-Bashir, TWP, Dec. 16, 2008:
"I've been impressed by him since I first saw him," goaltender Brent Johnson said. "He has explosive speed. I think that's probably his biggest attribute. He's like [New York Rangers goaltender] Henrik Lundqvist. He's quick side-to-side, and he's always in your face. He makes you put it by him, and he doesn't give up a lot of net."
"He played really well [in Montreal], but we're going to have to keep working on his game like we do with all of our young goalies, continue to build structure and everything else," General Manager George McPhee said. "In terms of athleticism, he's off the charts, and in terms of competitiveness, he's as good as they come in that regard, too."
Said Coach Bruce Boudreau: "We think he has a really bright future. We'd like to see him play a little more."
Before Saturday's game, Varlamov was so focused, Boudreau said, he decided not to speak to him. That was not an option, however, for defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, who needed to establish some ground rules for goalie-defenseman communication with a new teammate who speaks limited English.
"I told him that if [the defenseman] wants him to play the puck, we would say 'Play' and if we wanted to him to leave it, we wouldn't say anything," Morrisonn said. "We did fine. There weren't any mix-ups. He's a goalie that makes you feel relaxed because his rebounds were placed in a great spot, and he's got a great glove hand, too. It was never in my mind that we've got a new goalie."
Varlamov reviewed the game on a laptop late Saturday night and said he was pleased with what he saw.
"I felt my movements were sharp," Varlamov said through Sergei Fedorov, who interpreted for him. "I was not nervous. I liked the way I played, on that high of a level. I gained a lot of confidence from that."
Varlamov said his experience playing for Russia in international competition and against grown men in the Continental Hockey League, where he led Yaroslavl to the finals last season, helped him prepare for the jump to North America this season. But none of that experience prepared him for his debut, which came in front of 21,000 chanting fans, in a city steeped in hockey heritage and broadcast around the world on Hockey Night in Canada.
But in retrospect, Varlamov said, he wouldn't have had it any other way.
"After this game," he said. "I'm not afraid of anything."
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