The Goalie Guild

Avs Training Camp: Varlamov’s Glove

Day 2 of the Colorado Avalanche’s training camp included three more scrimmages, allowing me to once again watch Semyon Varlamov from up close. Instead of just taking notes, I shot a little video from a 45-degree angle in order to focus on his glove. Overall, his performance today reinforced what I also saw yesterday in terms of an improving glove hand.

Many of you might remember when Varlamov’s glove and overall positioning was really exposed in the second round of the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs. In a Game 7 loss to Pittsburgh, Varlamov was replaced by Jose Theodore after allowing four goals less than halfway through the game. It was a sour end to a sweet little playoff run.

But as Varlamov has matured over the past two seasons, so too have many areas of his goaltending. Even though he has yet to play more than 27 games in an NHL regular season, that doesn’t mean he’s not improving his technique and evolving as a puck-stopper.

I’ve only been able to see him up close for two hours worth of game situations, but so far it appears to me that his glove was one of the main areas he worked on over the summer with his goalie coach Jussi Parkkila. Here are just a few of my thoughts, which go along with the video above:

+ During his first two NHL seasons, Varlamov primarily held his glove in the upright position when setting up to make a save. That means the hand and fingers were pointed up, which pushed his palm out (think of how Jimmy Howard holds his glove). But last season, especially in January and February, he made an adjustment by holding his glove in the more traditional manner – with the fingers and wrist at an angle. From what I’ve seen during this training camp, his hand is still angled similarly, but now it appears to be held in a more prominent and active manner.

+ In today’s scrimmage, Varlamov’s glove seemed more engaged than usual. It led me to wonder just how much thought and focus goes into how and where he’s now holding his hand. I also wondered how much kinetic energy he exerts in order to keep his hand in these positions. It didn’t look loose and relaxed, but it didn’t look tight or tense, either. So it led me to believe his mind was processing a lot of information and putting a good effort into just keeping his glove in this refined and ready position.

+ I didn’t catch this in the video, but Varlamov did some good self-coaching on the ice. After a play would exit the zone, he’d stay down in the butterfly and visualize shots coming from different angles. As he played these imaginary situations out, he would turn his head and check out exactly what angle his glove was covering. This act of self-visualizing shots to the glove side was more proof it was an area of mental and technical focus for him in the scrimmage.

+ Varlamov’s ability to self-coach will be important tool for him this season if Kirk McLean is not going to be with the team in a “full-time” fashion. I did not see him on the ice again today. Please keep in mind that I’m sure he’s having conversations with his goalies, discussing video he might have looked at over the summer and more. But Varlamov’s body language when he self-coached said a lot about his glove work.

+ When you watch the sequence of snapshots from the glove save, pay attention to his overall net coverage and low crouch. In the first frame, his eyes are parallel with the top of the dasher boards. In the second frame, he gets lower and wider. The wider he gets, the lower his glove is naturally going to sit. In the third frame, you can see the puck’s release point and aerial angle, one that Varly is just barely covering. In the fourth frame, the puck is already in Varly’s glove. The shot’s velocity and aerial angle was not the greatest, but this was still a solid, well-positioned reaction glove save.

+ The current off-ice situation with Varlamov is not one I want to discuss, but one that I feel must be mentioned (I do not discuss a goalie’s personal lives). But the KHL tragedy has affected him in a very emotional way. Adrian Dater from the Denver Post had a good article on that topic, so be sure to check it out. I can’t even begin to put into words what he might be going through, but it is significant in terms of how he practices and plays.

+ From my perspective, I feel like the more he does focus on the intricate aspects of his positioning, the more energy he will exert out on the ice mentally, and the easier it will be for him off the ice. Being around his new teammates is a huge help, and getting the win in the scrimmage helps as well. This is where I was pleased to see him get a big reaction and smile out of defenseman Kyle Quicney. Call this my Kodak moment of Training Camp so far:

+ Final score was 3-1 Team Varlamov. He was not in a good rhythm or looking the most comfortable early in the scrimmage, but improved as the game rolled along. The glove save boosted his energy level and he played much better after that moment. Getting support from the players and the fans is huge for him right now in terms of getting over a tragedy and getting amped up for the season.

+ Trevor Cann had a much better day today and played well in the final scrimmage of the game. It was good to see him come up with a much better performance knowing full well that he’s considered the starter in Lake Erie right now. There has been no update on whether or not the team might bring in another goaltender. But they still need to do something.

+ That leads to Sami Aittokallio, who once again impressed me at camp today. The adjectives I have for him continue to be the same – poised, comfortable, unfazed. And this was against NHL players. For a 19-year-old to have that kind of composure in his first pro camp experience in North America is impressive. This is why he was ranked #1 for International goalies in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and this is why the Avalanche need to find a way to get him signed before next June’s deadline. He has what you want in a raw Finnish prospect and his “bring it on” attitude is really important for an Avalanche goaltender to have.

+ Calvin Pickard once again gave up some goals in the scrimmage, but played well and made a number of nice saves. He gave up goals in bunches in the first game, but got right back in there for the second scrimmage (only five goalies has its advantages) and played much better. The second game was a great opportunity to showcase his bounce-back skills and he showed some good mental toughness in that regard.

+ The speed of playing against top NHL players clearly has given Pickard some issues with control, but he has a real good demeanor in the net. I like his narrowed stance when telescoping out to challenge a shooter and he had very strong second and third efforts (albeit very uncontrolled). He’s a special kind of hard-working, durable WHL goaltender, one with a lot of promise right now. Giving up goals is never good, but bouncing back is way more impressive to a scout.

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