– While eager to begin a new chapter in his hockey career, Semyon Varlamov
has been carrying a heavy heart since the Sept. 7 plane crash that claimed the lives of nearly the entire Yaroslavl Lokomotiv hockey team.
The 23-year-old Colorado Avalanche
goalie, acquired July 1 from Washington, was a product of the Lokomotiv system in his native Russia and he remains heartbroken about the loss of so many of his friends.
"That was my old team," Varlamov said softly Friday after undergoing a battery of medical and physical tests at the Pepsi Center in preparation for the first official training camp sessions Saturday.
KHL LOKOMOTIV CRASH COVERAGE
"I played there for eight years," he said. "When it happened, I felt I had to go to Yaroslavl and see the fans and the families and everybody. It was a tough time for everybody in Yaroslavl and in Russia. And I'm so sad."
Thirty-seven players, coaches and staff members perished, including former Avalanche defensemen Karlis Skrastins
and Ruslan Salei
. The Yak-42 jet crashed outside Yaroslavl while the Kontinental Hockey League team was en route to its first game of the season.
Varlamov, who had been skating and working out in Colorado, returned to Russia last week to attend memorial services.
"I have to start thinking more about hockey now," he said. "The last week was tough for me. It was a long flight and when I came to Yaroslavl it was a tough time for me.
"I feel like I'm in good shape and I'm ready to go. (Saturday) is going to be the first day. I'm so excited, new team. It's going to be a new experience for me."
Varlamov has been getting plenty of emotional support from his new teammates, many of whom also lost friends as a result of the accident.
Veteran goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere
, who was signed July 1 as a free agent to serve as a mentor and backup to Varlamov, said the two have talked some about how best to cope in the wake of the disaster.
"It's a big tragedy," said Giguere, who played with Salei when the two were with the Anaheim Ducks
. "I was just in Anaheim for the Ruslan Salei
memorial. It's not a fun subject to talk about. I'm sure everybody grieves in a different way. I think getting back to playing hockey and doing what we love should hopefully help us forget and move on to something better and nicer."
Right wing Milan Hejduk
, now 35 and the Avalanche's elder statesman following the retirement of captain Adam Foote
, said he knew "seven or eight players" who died in the crash.
"It was really hard. It's such a tough loss," Hejduk said. "It's the biggest hockey tragedy ever, right? So it's a really tough thing."
"When it happened, I felt I had to go to Yaroslavl and see the fans and the families and everybody. It was a tough time for everybody in Yaroslavl and in Russia. And I’m so sad." -- Semyon Varlamov
Avalanche center Paul Stastny
, a teammate of Skrastins and Salei, grew up in St. Louis and became friendly with Pavol Demitra
, who played seven seasons with the Blues and died in the crash. Paul's father, Peter, finished his Hall of Fame career with St. Louis and was a Blues scout.
"I was closest to Demitra," Paul Stastny
said. "As a family friend, we've known him for 20-plus years. He was one of my role models growing up. ‘Scratch' (Skrastins) was my roommate my first two years and Rusty (Salei) was my teammate for two years. I think the hardest part is I know their wives and I know their kids. For those kids to grow up without their fathers, who died at such a young age, it's such a fragile thing. It's tough to think about.
"I knew Demitra's wife really well. They lost one kid a couple months after birth and now they've lost him. Hopefully they get as much help as possible and get through it, all the families. You realize how important life is. There's a lot more to life than sports. It's more about family and friends, and enjoying every second of it."