By Eugene Mozoletsky, Samarskie Izvestia (SI), June 6, 2009 "Goalkeeper for million dollars":
Our SI's guest is the goalkeeper of the National Hockey League's Washington Capitals Simeon Varlamov. The rising Star of the NHL, the product of Samara's hockey, Varlamov's made a real sensation in the best hockey league of the world last season.
You can safely call the 21-year-old Washington Capitals goalkeeper one of the major discoveries of the 2008/09 NHL season. At once a promising young goalkeeper became the number one goalie of one of the teams playing in North America. After playing very few games in the regular season Simeon became something more than the half of the team. SI offers you the exclusive interview with the rising star of the NHL, the first Samarian who made it to the best hockey league in the world.
Simeon, how did you become a hockey player?
I was born in the village "116-km". The first time I've put on the skates was when I was seven. Prior to that my dad and I were going to the games at the CSK VVS (Central Sports Club of Air Force) arena. At one of these games is the fall of 1996 it was announced that the boys of my age could sign up to play hockey. I wanted to sign up. My father supported me, probably to ensure that I'd become friendly with physical fitness. He took me to the "Kryliya Sovietov" outdoor stadium, which was at "the Physical Cilture" street, because the hockey arena didn't have enough space for children's teams.
So your team was playing at the outdoor rink...
At first the conditions were still tolerant. But a year later the "Kryliya Sovietov" stadium has ceased to exist as such. All the the care about the ice at the hockey rink was laid on the shoulders of our parents. They showed resourcefulness wonders when at night they'd open the taps with hot water and pour it to the rink. The parents were cleaning the ice after the snow storms, repairing rink boards, were making the metal hockey goals. Back then CSK VVS had virtually no money. The uniforms, the hockey equipment, all was bought at the expense of the parents.
Did they pay for the road games expenses?
Yes, the parents drove us on their own cars. My father on that occasion even bought a roomy minivan. Our parents at their own risk had to ask for leave from work. And it was giving them a lot of grieve. My Dad worked as a chief accountant at one of the big companies of the city, and his frequent absenteeism was not welcomed by the director. But what he could do?
How did you get to Yaroslavl?
It seems that in 2000 we were playing well at the tournament in Kirovo-Chepetsk, and I was recognized as the best goalkeeper. Soon after came the invitation from Yaroslavl, but my father did not want me to go to unfamiliar city.
One year later the director of Locomotive hockey school once again invited you to Yaroslavl...
At this time my parents listened knowing that it would happen sooner or later. They ventured to send 13-year-old son to the city where the good hockey players were raised. With all due respect to Samara's hockey, it became apparent that there were very few possibilities for the development in my home city.
And why it didn't work out with Togliatti?
Their coaches felt that they had enough of good goalkeeper's prospects.
Did you regret at the beginning that you've made the choice in favor of Yaroslavl?
At first it was very hard at the training camp, off the ice, and I was even considering to return to Samara. But it was me who decided to conquer Yaroslavl, and I had to endure. We had a strong youth team. We outplayed everyone of our age, twice became the champions of Russia. Locomotive is very productive on working with young kids, all-established in detail.
When was your debut at the highest level?
In Moscow, in September 2006, at Setun. The Head coach Vladimir Yurzinov was not afraid to put me on the game against the Wings, and put Egor Podomatsky as a backup. We won in overtime 5:4.
You have shown your best in Russia in March - April 2008. Five shutout games in playoffs, including two in the finals against Salavat Yulaev, it was phenomenal...
I am very grateful to the team's coach from Finland Kari Heikkilä. I achieved a lot under his expert guidance. I've always felt his constant support. He is also an excellent psychologist.
Back then you became vice-champions. And could you win gold medals?
Yes, we could, but we failed at the very important game. If I'd play a bit more attentive, others a bit more accurate... But it turned out everyone was a little bit wrong, and we yielded.
During 2007/2008 season you had on your helmet a beautiful image of Yaroslavl church on one side and Washington's White House on the other...
There's a simple explanation. After 2006 draft I became a potential NHL player. I was chosen in the first round by the Washington Capitals.
You could stay another year or two in Russia. Were you unhappy with the terms of the contract with Locomotive?
I was offered a decent money in Russia. But try yourself in the NHL is a dream of any hockey player. I felt that I had excellent chances to play there. At the end of last year's season I was 20 years old, the most suitable age. And Washington Capitals management constantly showed an interest in me.
Can you tell how much is your contract with the American Club?
Overseas the contractual commitments of athletes in professional leagues are transparent. Just look at the respective league's site. The standard three-year NHL contract for the rookie is 900 thousand dollars.
Having arrived to the United States you've ended up in the Washington's farm-club Hershey Bears, which plays in the less prestigious American Hockey League (AHL). Why?
Here's how it was: in September of last year playing for Washington in a friendly game against Carolina, I pulled a groin. Two weeks after that I did not go out on the ice, trained only on the ground. Goalkeeper's coach said that I showed up well in the training camp, but due to the injury I should spend time playing for the farm club. In early October I was forced to move to Hershey which is the two-hour drive by car from the U.S. capital.
What is the city of Hershey?
The population is slightly more than 13 thousand people. This is actually not the city, but more like a village or town with two storey buildings all over. The chocolate factory produces, in my opinion, and not only in mine, the best chocolate in the world. We rented a good apartment, but close to home were only fields and highways. Sasha Ovechkin's friends helped me to buy Lexus, a middle level class car by American standards, so that I could quickly get to Washington.
Were you lonely in Hershey?
I was not alone, my father lived with me for two months. He helped me in everything. In the kitchen he was creating a culinary masterpieces. Imagine, in a short time, he cooked sixty different dishes, for many of those I had no idea! Then my sister came over.
Can you compare the second largest American league with NHL?
The hockey players are not that skilled, but there's a lot of physical play. The largest contract for the AHL rookie is $62,500 a year, a modest amount. The business organization is economical, no flights. We traveled only by the bus to the road games . Two or three times a week is not a rarity. The most long trip to Providence took eight hours. It's very hard to recover after these bus tours.
Was you goal to become the best in the farm-club and then storm the NHL?
Yes it was. If everything could go well in a month and a half I should have been given a chance to continue my career in the NHL. I played 27 games for the farm, we won 19 in regular time, and only lost one game.
In December of last year due to the injury to Jose Theodore you were summoned from the farm-club, and debuted in the NHL game against the legendary Montreal club who had a centennial celebration last season. What were the memories of the game?
It was on December 13. I remember I was very worried. 22 thousand spectators at the super stadium in Montreal! The tremors in my knees had disappeared in the middle of the first period. At the end I got 32 shots out of 33, we won, but journalists have recognized me the first star of the game. In a local newspaper they wrote that I showed "cat's reactions and athleticism".
How were you welcomed by the team?
Very cool. In the team there are a lot of Russian hockey players: Sanja Ovechkin, Sanja Semin, Vitja Kozlov, Sergei Fedorov. I've often traveled to visit Ovechkin. His mother had constantly cooked for me and I am very thankful for that.
Since February you were essentially in Washington ...
I took the place of Jose Theodore's backup, Brent Johnson, who had injured his thigh. I won't hide, I was waiting for the moment when I could get a chance to become the number one goalie. It happened after Theodore let four goals in the first Stanley Cup game against the New York Rangers. I played 13 of 14 games in playoffs. I had two shutouts in two games against the New York club.
You have more games in playoffs than in the regular season. Could you imagine at the beginning of the season that will be playing so well in the Stanley Cup?
To be honest, no. I had injuries. If not for them, sure, I could play 50 games a season.
The seventh game of 1/4 finals against Pittsburgh became your last...
It didn't work out well for my play from the beginning. The coach made the right decision replacing me in the second period. I was terribly disappointed, I didn't want to finish the season. I was in a good shape, but the tight schedule killed me. A dream to win the Stanley Cup remains a dream.
Do you come to Samara once a year, in the summer?
No, much more. When I played in Yaroslavl I was able to get to my home city for a week in winter, for the New Year's eve. I was born in Samara, there began to play hockey. I know from my father that CSK VVS can cease to exist this summer, but it should not be allowed.
What are your immediate plans?
I'll be in Moscow and Yaroslavl for three weeks. Then I'll come back to Samara to rest. And will start slowly to prepare for the new hockey season. I'll fly to the United States in September.
Simeon Varlamov's Dossier.
Born: April 27, 1988 in Samara. Height: 186 cm, weight: 82 kg. Position: Goalkeeper.
CSK VVS alumni. His first coach was Alexander Endulov.
Played for Lokomotiv-2, Yaroslavl (2004-2006, the first league), Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (Russian SuperLeague 2006-2008, 99 games, 219 goals allowed)
In North America: in the AHL for Hershey Bears (2008/09, 27 games, 65 goals allowed) in the NHL for Washington Capitals, 19 games, 35 goals allowed).
He played on two world championships for the junior's Team Russia (2005, 2006), at the two world championships for the junior team (2005/06, 2006/07), as well as for the first team (2008, 4 games, 4 goals allowed).
Honors: Russia's Vice-champion 2007/08, vice-world junior champion (2006, 2007).
Related Post: "Ah Samara, little town"
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