This summer, Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov went shopping at the NHL Store in New York City. His purchases included a collection of hats--roughly 45 of them.
One can imagine the feelings of confusion sales associates at the store must have suppressed as they rang him up, wondering what a hockey star was doing with so many caps.
The reason behind this large purchase lies in Varlamov's generosity. Every offseason, when the goalie goes home to Russia, he takes requests from friends and family before coming back stateside. During his annual trip to NYC, Varlamov picks up and sends out NHL swag for the people he grew up with.
"Yeah, I bought about 45 or 50 hats, all for my friends and family," he recalled when asked about this recurring behavior.
Family and friends are important to the Samara, Russia, native, and Varlamov makes sure to spend time with them every summer. He split this past offseason between Russia, Florida, Colorado and, of course, New York, visiting familiar comrades and partaking in some of his favorite outdoor activities.
In between socializing, fly fishing and taking it easy, the 6-foot-2, 209-pound netminder also indulged in a guilty pleasure: Buffalo wings.
"Big fan of the Buffalo wings. With ranch or with bleu cheese is my favorite," he said. "But I cannot eat them that much especially because we have all these body fat tests coming up."
However, the summer wasn't all fun and games. Midway through the 2016-17 season, Varlamov sustained a groin injury and had to cut his season short. Consequently, he underwent two hip surgeries to fix the problem and spent the remainder of the season and summer rehabbing and training to regain his strength.
After months of hard work, the veteran is confident going into the season.
"I feel great, I've fully recovered," he said. "I've been working a lot with Scott [Woodward], our physical therapist here. He's done a great job helping me to get back on track. We've done so much in the past five months which was not easy, but I'm glad we have smart people working with me. I'll be ready 100 percent when the season starts."
In addition to a return to hockey, the new season marks a long-awaited reunion for Varlamov--his former goalie coach has joined the Avs.
Jussi Parkkila and Varlamov met in 2007 when the then first-year professional coach and young goaltender worked together in the Kontinental Hockey League for the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Since the 2007-08 season, Parkkila and Varlamov have formed a strong relationship and have kept in touch during the past decade, meeting up for summer training camps and practices.
Much to Varlamov's delight, the Avalanche announced that the organization hired Parkkila as the team's new goaltending coach on July 7.
"We've been waiting for this moment for 10 years. First time we worked together in the KHL we had a lot of success," Varlamov remarked. "I stayed in touch with him all summer. Soon as the Avalanche signed him, we started to prepare myself for the new season coming in. We don't have much time before training camp, so it's going to be fun training, and I'm looking forward to it for sure. It'll be very exciting for both of us."
Despite a tough past campaign for both himself and the team, Varlamov radiates optimism and confidence for the new year ahead.
"This past season is history," he said. "We don't think about the last year anymore, we learned a lot from the past year, good things and bad things, but now we're looking forward and focusing on the new season. The beginning of the season is going to be very important for us so we need a good start."
After a long time off the ice, Varlamov appears eager--and ready--to return. With renewed health, a fresh yet familiar coach and lots of support from his hat-loving fans back home, the 2017-18 season looks promising for the 29-year-old keeper.