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Author: Andrey Korolev (Ves Hokkei and Football)
Translated By: Sergei Chveitser
Date: 02/21/2006
Semen Varlamov (2006 NHL Entry Draft): I’m a rising star? I’ve got long ways to go before I reach Medvedev’s level!

2006 U18 5 Nations Tournament (88 born)

Semen Varlamov accepting the MVP Award at the U18 Four Nations Tournament in Mytische Russia (Photo Source - Lokomotiv 2 Official Website/Yana Romanova)
Following Kovalchuk, Zherdev, Ovechkin and Malkin, our hockey might have a new young star. This time though, it's in net and considering the amount of players of this position in modern hockey, it's twice as valuable. Admittedly, it is old news that there is a talented young player developing in Lokomotiv, it was even possible to watch him play a few times. It was in Mytishy though where Semen Varlamov showcased his great potential in front of a big crowd and deservedly was named the best goalie of the tournament. Moreover, at he is a humble young man who prefers not to talk about his ambitions and prove them in games and practices instead.

Besides being named the best goalie of the tournament, many fans and experts were ready to also name you as the MVP...
S. Varlamov: Actually, it's good that there is no official title like that. Every team had players who looked strong. I watched not only the goalies but also other teams in general. When we arrived in the arena, we had some free time, around 15-20 minutes, so we went to watch our opponents play.

What was the most difficult moment of the tournament for you personally?
S. Varlamov: The game against the Americans was the toughest. We let in the first goal and it was hard psychologically to adjust ourselves because memories from a year ago when we lost to them by a big score kept popping into our heads. Here again, we let in the first goal... It seemed that they will pressure even more now and score again which is why it wasn't easy to overcome ourselves and finish the game at a proper level.

For a goalie of your age, your technique is great. Is this natural talent?
S. Varlamov: No, I believe that it's a result of hard work. For me, it's not hard to motivate myself to work, that's how I was raised by my father. When he played soccer himself, he worked hard even though nobody was forcing him to. I'm also very thankful to my first coach Alexander Alexandrovich Endulov. Not only was he coaching our team, but also found a lot of time to work with me personally. It was interesting to later meet other coaches who can also teach me something new. For example, Oleg Arkadevich Semenov who is a goalie coach, has been working with me personally during all of my 4 years in Yaroslavl. When I first came here, I couldn't do some of the drills that he was showing me.

On the bright side, experts call you Russia's biggest goaltending hope of the last 10 years. Have you heard this opinion?
S. Varlamov: Of course not, they try to keep us away from such rumours, especially considering the experts don't get to see us every day. It's possible to concentrate for a big tournament, play on a high level and be happy with yourself but the next day there will always be something to work on. There are many very good goalies in Russia, but some of them just haven't been noticed yet. I got a chance to show myself and was successful so that's why it turned out like this. Personally, I would mention goalies like Medvedev and Khudobin who are much better than me. They played very well at World Junior Championships and have won many championships.

What about silver at the recent World Junior Championships?
S. Varlamov: I only played one game and don't think I did much to deserve the medal. It's good that I went to participate in that tournament though and was allowed to play. Even though it was against Latvia as when I was leaving for Canada, I knew there was a possibility that I wouldn't get to play at all and would spend the whole tournament on the bench.

The tournament in Mytishy made a statement about you as a goalkeeper to Russia because after all, the 1988 born team only played in foreign countries until now. How do you react to the increased attention to yourself?
S. Varlamov: I try to be humble. I think at my age, it's too early to think about fame.

Some consider the talent pool of players born in 1988 to be a shallow one with few talented players. This year is "unsuccessful".
S. Varlamov: No, I completely disagree with this and don't think that "unsuccessful year" is a fitting description for our team. Yes, it's true that we don't have players like Malkin, Ovechkin or Kovalchuk, but the guys are trying to win every tournament and are battling hard for the team and for Russia, so I don't think this is about us.

The 1988 team plays with the mentality of "let less goals in than the other opponent" rather than "we will outscore them"...
S. Varlamov: I don't think that we are playing with this strategy. It's just that at this tournament, we failed to score more against the Scandinavians. This happens to every team. Yes, if our forwards didn't score and the goalie let a goal in, a game can be lost like this, so I wish our forwards to score as much as they can (laughs).

What can our team count on at the upcoming World Junior Championship in April that will be held in Sweden?
S. Varlamov: I think our team will be able to win games due to determination even though we aren't as talented. Those who evaluate the team based on the 5 nations tournament need to remember that there is a lot less pressure here than at the World Championships. We will play every game like it's our last and I think will be able to reach the semi finals. It's hard to look ahead after that, but I hope we can make it to the finals.

Do you remember what happened at a similar tournament a year ago?
S. Varlamov: Of course! Just like with the World Junior Championships, I went there as a backup goalie and was happy to just make the national team. All the expectations were resting on the shoulders of the whole team and not just me. Proskuryakov was going as the starting goalie and I was able to get into 2 games against Denmark and Germany which weren't the best teams. In the quarter finals, we had to play the Czechs and all of a sudden, coaches decided to give me the start. I guess they thought that a guy who is a year younger than everybody else will be able to steal the game or they weren't happy with Proskuryakov. In the end, we lost 1:5 although in the 5th place game I got the start again and thankfully we won then.

There's not much known about you to the wide audience. How did you get into hockey?
S. Varlamov: There was nothing special about it. I was born in Samara and was once at a CSK VVS game. There was an announcement made at the game that there are tryouts at the hockey school for boys born in 1987 and I was 8 years old. Me and dad decided not to wait another year and go to check it out and see how it goes. We came to the coach and he asked if I want to play at all. Father then replied that I like hockey (smiles). He said that his son goes to a lot of games and that's how everything began.

How did you end up in Yaroslavl?
S. Varlamov: I came to Yaroslavl when I was 13 years old. I was invited by Nikolai Nikolaevich Vakurov who noticed me at the regional championships when I played for Povolzhie in the 1987 team. My father called him 2 weeks later and talked with him. He was happy that I was invited to Yaroslavl because Samara has no room for development and sooner or later I would've had to choose a different team. After about a month and a half I moved to Yaroslavl.

Kovalchuk, Zherdev, Ovechkin, Malkin... When talking about talented youth recently, forwards have been getting all the praise. Does it offend you that the goalies have been forgotten?
S. Varlamov: I can't speak for all the goalies, but it doesn't offend me personally. Not many knew about me until I was around 17 years old and I definitely nobody asked for any interviews. Even now I don't feel any popularity. Some may not be able to live without being written about, but it's definitely not me. The players I mentioned have already achieved a lot in hockey. Maybe more will be written about goalies if I can reach heights like this too (smiles).

The way things are going in Lokomotiv, is it reasonable to assume that you will take over as the team's backup goaltender soon?
S. Varlamov: There is a big tournament ahead and I don't want to be distracted by such far fetched hopes. Come to think of it though, on one hand, a spot on a Superleague team is a chance to prove yourself and perhaps become a starting goalie in the future. On the other hand though, being a backup goalie means little game action and I'm afraid to repeat Evgeni Lobanov's fate who spent an entire season on the bench. Without game practice, I will stay on the same level as I am now and at my age I can't be sitting on the bench.

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