Varlamov grew up in Kuybyshev, developing his skills under the VVS hockey program. Before learning to properly skate, he started playing in net at the age of eight, preferring the goalie stick to the inferior bandy sticks that mite-level players were using at the time. The young netminder moved to Yaroslavl in his early teens and quickly established himself as the club’s dominant 1988-born goalie. During the 2004–05 season, Varlamov made his debut onLokomotiv’s junior farm club, Lokomotiv-2, playing as backup to Ivan Kaustin in the 1st League (Russia 3). During the summer of 2005, Kasutin was loaned to Penza, effectively making Varlamov the starting goalie for the 2005–06 season. In 2008, he helped lead Lokomotiv Yaroslavl to the Russian Super Leaguefinals.
After having been drafted by the Washington Capitals 23rd overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Varlamov was signed by the Capitals to a three year, entry-level contract on July 11, 2007. He came to North America for the 2008–09 season and played, for the most part, with the Capitals’ minor league affiliate, theHershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL). Varlamov was called up, however, on several occasions during the season and played his first NHL game on December 13, 2008, against the Montreal Canadiens. Making 32 saves, he won his debut 2–1 and was named the first star of the game. His home debut in Washington came five days later on December 18 against the St. Louis Blues, where he made 29 saves on 31 shots and was named the second star of the game in a 4–2 Capitals win. After regular Capitals backup Brent Johnson was sidelined with a hip injury in February 2009, Varlamov assumed the backup position behind José Théodore. He went 4–0–1 with a 2.37 goals against average and .918 save percentage in six games with the Capitals, while also going 19–7–1 in 27 games with the Bears in the AHL.
During the first round of the 2009 playoffs against the New York Rangers, Varlamov replaced Jose Theodore, after Theodore allowed 4 goals to lose game one. He subsequently made his NHL playoff debut on April 18, 2009, losing the second game of the series 1–0. He went on to win game three 4–0 on April 20, recording his first career NHL shutout. On April 24, game five of the series, Varlamov achieved his second shutout by the same score, 4–0. He won the next two games 5–3 and 2–1, respectively, to help the Washington Capitals advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1998. In Game 1 of the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Varlamov made a spectacular save on Sidney Crosby that NHL pundits have dubbed “the save of the playoffs.”In Game 7 of that series, after allowing four early goals, he was pulled in favor of deposed starter José Théodorein which the Capitals were eliminated 2–6 by the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
The next season, Theodore began the season as the starter, with Varlamov able to challenge for the spot. After a hot start, just as it seemed he would supplant Theodore, Varlamov was injured. Varlamov was sent down to theHershey Bears of the AHL by the Washington Capitals on December 29, 2009 to begin his rehab starts. Varlamov was recalled from the Hershey Bears on March 1, 2010. Theodore remained the starter, but just as it was the year before, Varlamov eventually made most of the playoff starts. Theodore was not retained after the season, seemingly making Varlamov the official starter. However, he eventually lost out to rookie Michal Neuvirth, and Neuvirth was instead Theodore’s successor.
On July 9, 2010, it was announced that Varlamov changed his jersey number from the recognizable number 40 to number 1.
On July 1, 2011, Varlamov was traded to the Colorado Avalanche for a first round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and a second in either 2012 or 2013. The Avs would go on to sign Varlamov to a three-year, 8.5 million dollar contract.
The start of the 11–12 season proved successful for Varlamov and the Avs, but a disastrous November put the club back to the bottom of the Northwest Division. Varlamov was benched in favor of veteran JS Giguere, originally brought in by the Avalanche to mentor the young Russian. With Giguere’s exemplary effort in net, the Avs climbed back within the race for bottom playoff spots in the Western Conference. On February 15, 2012, Giguere pulled his groin in the first period against the Vancouver Canucks. Varlamov replaced Giguere in a losing effort. Since then, he has reclaimed his position as starter and kept his club in playoff contention.
April 5, 2012, Game 81 of the season, in a must-win situation for the Avs’ playoff hopes, Semyon made his career high 8th consecutive start and let up 4 goals in a 5–2 loss against the last placedColumbus Blue Jackets at Pepsi Center. Two of which goals came from Columbus captain Rick Nash, the other two from rookie Cam Atkinson who notched his first career hat-trick with an empty-net goal after Varlamov was pulled in favor of an extra skater at the end of the game. The loss ended Colorado’s playoff bid. This game finished his season with a .913 SV% and a 2.59 GAA with a 26–24–3 record. Despite his well known contempt for the post-overtime tiebreaker, Varlamov went undefeated in the shootout in the 11–12 season, winning all 8 of his contests and allowing only two goals in 24 attempts.
|Competitor for Russia|
|World Junior Championships|
Varlamov was a backup for Russia during the 2005 IIHF World U18 Championships, where they finished fifth. He then earned the backup position overLokomotiv-2 teammate Ivan Kaustin for Russia at the 2006 World Junior Championships as a seventeen-year-old. Backing up Anton Khudobin, Varlamov did not see much ice time, skating only in a game against Latvia, allowing one goal in a 3–1 round robin win. He earned a silver medal with Russia as they were defeated 5–0 in the final by Canada.
Later that year, Varlamov established himself as the starting netminder for Russia’s under-18 squad at the 2006 IIHF World U18 Championships and finished in fifth place. He began the 2007 Super Series as Russia’s starter at the under-20 level, but was later pulled in the series in favour of Sergei Bobrovsky. He regained the starting position at the 2007 World Junior Championships and recorded a 1.51 GAA (second among tournament goalies to Carey Price of Canada) along with 2 shutouts. Russia was, however, defeated by Canada for the second consecutive year in the gold medal game to earn another silver medal.
Varlamov was selected to represent Russia for the 2010 Olympics. He was the youngest man on the team by two years. He was the third goaltender on the team, behind starter Evgeni Nabokov, and backup Ilya Bryzgalov
When Varlamov first started playing for the Capitals, his name was most often pronounced VAR-la-mov. However, Varlamov has since corrected journalists and the Capitals television team, who mentioned it often during Game Four of the 2009 Eastern Conference Quarter-finals. The correct pronunciation is var-LA-mov, similar to the syllable emphasis of the last names of fellow Russian netminders Evgeni Nabokov and Ilya Bryzgalov.
On August 5, 2009, Varlamov registered a change of spelling of his first name with the NHL, “for the upcoming season and foreseeable future,” from the incorrect “Simeon” to “Semyon.” In the Russian alphabet, Varlamov’s first name is spelled “Семён.” The Russian letter (ё), equates to the sound (yo) in English. Other transliterated variations in use include Semen (as it is written in the NHL 09 video game), Semyen, Simyan, Simyon, etc.
In response to attempts by Varlamov and other Russian players to correct the spellings of their names, the IIHF came out with a standardized code in 2011 for transliterating names from the Cyrillic to the Latin script.