Varlamov Interview in Sovetsky Sport- “I’ll Even Fight if I Have To”

2/21/2008  P. Lysenkov, D. Chesnokov

2/21/2008 P. Lysenkov, D. Chesnokov

WE RIDE ON THE BUS

Photo: Pavel Lysenkov

Photo: Pavel Lysenkov

Hershey was leading 3:0 but ended up losing 4:5. Is this type of thing typical for the AHL?

“Sometimes games turn out that way. You have a big lead after the first period, but that is no guarantee of a win. The AHL is a very unpredictable league. It is easier to predict the outcome in the Russian league.”

What generally differentiates the AHL from the KHL? Or from the NHL?

“In comparison with the NHL, it is slower here and the players aren’t quite as skilled. It is obvious that the level of the Russian league is higher than the AHL, and the salaries in Russia are much higher. The maximum annual salary for a rookie in the AHL is $62,500, which is what I receive. That is for three seasons, including this one.

They also organize things better in the KHL. For example, on away games with Hershey we only travel by bus, since that is the most economical. When I played with Yaroslav Lokomotiv, we flew.

This is a pretty big difference. Just try to take 2-3 away games per week on a bus. One time when we traveled to Providence, we spent about eight hours on the road. At the beginning of the season it was easy to take, but when you play an away game, then pile into the bus, then lumber five hours through the night and the next day have another game… it is hard to bounce back.

True, Hershey did recently get an awesome bus. The interior has a lot of space and comfortable seats, like in a business class airplane. We have internet, video, and television with the NHL channels. It makes the time pass by quickly. But not every team in the AHL has a bus like that.”

MY JERSEY WENT FOR $1200

We also noticed that there are a lot of fights in the AHL.

“Russian fans are not used to this. Here, they make a show out of the fights. Every team has a tough-guy, and he follows a code and only fights with other tough-guys, and not with ordinary players.

I don’t think that this tradition needs to be abolished. I know that some American fans come to the games just to see their favorite fighter.  Here in Hershey we generally have two tough-guys on the team.

They told me that last year at Hershey they had a five-on-five brawl. And the goalkeepers didn’t stand by the sidelines doing nothing. If I get thrown into a situation like that, then I’ll have to uphold the tradition. What-I should just let them beat me up? I’d drop the hammer on a goalie if he started it first. Let him find out how Russian guys fight” laughs Varlamov.

Hershey played in pink jerseys in honor of St. Valentine’s Day. How often do things like that happen in the AHL?

“This year alone we have commemorated holidays four times by wearing colored jerseys. We generally only wear them during warm-ups, showing them off to the crowd. But in honor of St. Valentine we decided to make an exception.

After the game the rare jerseys were auctioned off. My jersey went for $1,200, even though I didn’t play in it. Only Andrew Gordon’s jersey got more-some fan paid $2,000 for his.”

Those chocolate factory workers sure get paid well…

“Not bad, I’m sure. But they come from all over Pennsylvania to the Hershey games-from Harrisburg and surrounding towns. That is how they fill up a 10,000 seat stadium.”

I DREAM OF THE OLYMPICS

Were you surprised to learn that Hershey has been around since 1931, and the team is older than all of Russian hockey?

“If I am not mistaken, this is the most titled club in all of the AHL. Hershey has won nine Calder Cups-the Stanley Cup of the AHL. It is great to play for such a team. You can really respect the history, and there is no such thing as a weak team here. I can’t recall any time when Hershey didn’t make the play-offs.”

How would you rate your prospect for a call-up to Washington, and what do you have to say about 20-year old Michal Neuvirth, who you now have to compete with?

“Everybody knows that Brent Johnson, the Capital’s number two goalkeeper, was injured and had to undergo an operation and looks like he will be out the rest of the season. So what are my prospects now? To heal my injured knee, and to play once again for Hershey and wait for a call-up to the NHL.

Neuvirth is a good prospective goalie.  There really aren’t any bad players at that age here. Otherwise they wouldn’t have been drafted. Advancing is really a matter of nuances-who develops, and who takes advantage of the chances presented to them. If Michal only let in one goal at Tampa (5:1), then that means he has no problems with his nerves, and he can control himself during a game.

Neuvirth played less than ten games in the AHL this season. He was called up from the Hershey farm club and then immediately called up to Washington. In Hershey, my partner Machesney and I are playing most of the time.”

You’ve not had a lot of luck. You could have been a World Champion in Quebec, but injured your leg the day before the start of the championship. Then you made it to Washington and once again you are injured…

“Everything happens for the best. I hope that I’ll be lucky in the future. If I wasn’t able to be a World Champion at 20, then that means I have to go to the Olympics when I’m 21 and win gold there. But to do that I have to work and work…..”

P.S.

As we were told by Simeon Varlamov, on Thursday he had his first practice since his injury. He skated with the team for fifteen minutes and went to the locker room. He still has a little injury to his knee, but the doctors say that he is cleared to play. The x-rays showed that everything is in order. Varlamov might be able to play for Hershey by the end of next week. And then we will see if he is called up to the NHL…

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