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Net Gains: Varlamov, Giguere

by Michael Kelly / Colorado Avalanche
Growing up in Samara, Russia, Semyon Varlamov always dreamed of playing for the Colorado Avalanche.  He imagined manning the same net as Patrick Roy, the goalie he idolized and wanted to be like. When Varlamov played hockey as a boy, he was the future Hall of Fame player.

“Patrick Roy, he was my favorite player in the NHL,” Varlamov says. “I wanted to play here when I was a kid.”

Varlamov got his wish this summer, and now he’s ready for the next phase of his young career. But he’s not the only goalie starting a new chapter. Veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere signed with the Avalanche in the offseason, and together they will try to lead Colorado back to the playoffs.

“I really like the fit,” head coach Joe Sacco says. “I think it’s a nice mix. We have a young guy in Varly and a more experienced guy in Jiggy. I like what the organization did in addressing the goaltending issue.”

While the 23-year-old Varlamov is in the dawn of his career, Giguere is on the back nine of his. The veteran has been an elite goalie for 10 years, and he has the accolades to show for it. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP when he led Anaheim to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003, and four years later he backstopped the Ducks to their only title. His 231 career wins ranks ninth among active goalies, and he has a 33-17 record in the postseason.

Although Giguere has an impressive résumé, he knows Varlamov will be the No. 1 goalie in Colorado. Giguere is happy to accept his role as the sage elder while guiding Varlamov this season.

“Everything he’s going to go through I’ve been through as well,” the 34-year-old Giguere says. “It’s important to be a good teammate. As a young goalie you need a good support, and I’ll be that.”

Make no mistake, Giguere is competitive and he wants playing time, but he knows the most important thing is team. He understands Varlamov will get most of the starts and he wants to help his teammate get the most out of his ability.

“Within the organization, the goalie team should be strong.  The goalie coach and goaltenders have to work together and help each other,” Giguere says. “At the same time, you have to push each other and try to get the best out of the two and help the team out as much as possible.

“(Varlamov) works hard and he has a crazy amount of talent. I’m sure it’s going to be a joy to watch him play, but at the same time I want to play some games too.”

Giguere will get his playing time. He, like Varlamov has a crazy amount of talent, too, which is why the Avalanche signed him to a two-year deal in the offseason.

“We wanted to surround Semyon in an environment where he could be successful and we wanted to bring in a veteran presence, a calming presence for him,” Avalanche general manager Greg Sherman says. “We feel confident having a former Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe winner as his backup, who welcomes that role.”

Despite joining Colorado in a span of a few days, Giguere and Varlamov didn’t meet until a few weeks before training camp, but they hit it off right away.

“He’s a nice guy,” Varlamov says. “We worked together throughout camp and he’s been a big help so far.”

Varlamov doesn’t need much help with natural ability, which is why the Avalanche traded for him in the offseason. In three seasons with Washington, Varlamov showed why he is considered the No. 1 goalie, compiling a 30-13-12 record with a 2.39 goals-against average in 59 career games.

“Our plan was to bring in a player that was young and up and coming that could carry the load as a starting goaltender,” Sherman says. “This is a guy that’s capable of carrying the load.”

While he is capable of carrying the load, the Avalanche wanted to give him some help. Enter Giguere, who is coming off an injury-plagued season in Toronto but is healthy after having sports hernia surgery in the offseason.

“I feel great. I got it done right away after the season,” Giguere says of the surgery. “It was an advantage of not making the playoffs for me. I had five months to recover and that really helped me. I started to work out right after the surgery and I had the best summer workout in the last two or three years.”

Giguere hopes to get back to the level he played four years ago, and he feels he can get there. In the meantime the Avalanche wants him to provide a veteran presence for their young goalie in their drive to the playoffs.

Solid goaltending will be a big key to the Avalanche reaching that goal. The play in net could be the difference between golfing in April or playing hockey into June.  It’s something Giguere wants to experience again.

“I’ve been there before.  I know what it’s like to get to the finals, what it’s like to play in a pressure situation,” he says. “It’s so much fun. It’s definitely a goal of mine to get back to that level.”

With two top-notch goalies in net, Giguere might get his wish.
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