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Avalanche Thoughts – Avalanche Players In The Olympics

Thoughts on Semyon Varlamov, Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and their Oylmpic experience.

Four members of the Colorado Avalanche went to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Two came back with a medal. Matt Duchene, representing Canada, brought home Gold while Gabriel Landeskog, representing Sweden, settled for Silver. Paul Stastny and Semyon Varlamov, from USA and Russia respectively, only have memories and a new jersey.

None of the four Avalanche players really stood out in Sochi. Duchene failed to register a point although I thought he played well in limited action and definitely showed that he belonged on the team. Landeskog never really got going thanks in large part to Henrik Zetterberg, penciled in to center Landeskog and Alexander Steen, suffering an injury after the first tournament game. Stastny played well early in the tournament when USA was scoring at will, but, like the rest of the team, went cold when things mattered most.

Then there’s Varlamov. After splitting duty with Sergei Bobrovsky in the preliminary round and playing back-up in the first round, Varlamov got the start against Finland in the semifinals of the tournament. The pressure on Russia was increased in this years Olympics because, not only did they field another team of dynamic scorers and stars, they were hosting the event. Russia and Varlamov folded under the pressure. “Varly” gave up a weak first goal against Finland and then was hung out to dry by his defense on two more goals before getting pulled in a 3-1 loss.

Sports are just as much mental as it is psychical and the mentality of a goaltender affects an entire hockey team. So the Avalanche has to wonder where Varlamov is mentally after the Olympics. The loss to Finland isn’t all on him, but he’ll be used as the scapegoat by a lot of people. Is it in his head now? The next time that he’s faced with pressure, likely the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, how will he hold up? Varlamov has been great for the Avalanche this season and earned himself a new contract, but there has to be some doubt in Avs fans as to whether or not he’s the same goaltender that he was two weeks ago.

Patrick Roy has already given his young goalie a vote of confidence, deflecting the attention off of him and onto some of the other Russian superstars who continue to fail in the Olympics and in pressure cooker situations (we’re looking at you Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk). If there’s anyone who knows anything about the mental make-up of goaltenders, it’s the greatest goaltender of all-time. There’s no doubt in my mind that Roy will give Varlamov 100% of his support, it’s up to Varlamov to prove any doubters wrong.

Personally, I think he’ll be alright. He’s proven that, under the eye of Patrick Roy and Francois Allaire, he can be a #1 goaltender and give his team a chance to win every night. Roy and Allaire are going to continue to encourage him and this Avs team won’t let him be the fall guy like Russia did. Let’s not forget that Varlamov already went through a tough personal stretch earlier this year when he was arrested and accused of domestic violence. That could mentally destroy anyone, but Varlamov bounced back and has continued with strong and consistent play all year.

If Varlamov happens to falter, at least the Avs have a back-up plan in Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

As for the rest of the Avalanche players, I think Matt Duchene will benefit the most from this Olympic experience. He’s a young guy who has gone through a lot of losing in the NHL, but he’s always put in the work and played well enough this year to make Team Canada, which looked like a longshot at the start of the season. Now he has a Gold Medal around his neck and knows what it’s like to win on the big stage. He’s one of the leaders of the Avalanche and, with Alex Tanguay out the rest of the season, it’s on him to step his game up even more. I’m pretty confident in Duchene rising to the occasion.

Despite a silver medal, I think Landeskog will benefit from the same type of experience as Duchene. He was given an “A” on Team Sweden and the fact that he earned that kind of respect from his teammates and coaching staff will hopefully have a positive effect of him being the Captain of the Avalanche. As for Stastny, Team USA failed to medal and the players are coming home to extreme disappointment, but I don’t think it will hinder Stastny’ game too much. He wasn’t looked at as one of the stars of Team USA and I think most of the blame is being put on the head coach and general manager of the team.

The Avalanche has 24 games remaining and are in a prime playoff position. Hopefully the Olympic break doesn’t slow any of their momentum, the players take the positives from the experience, and know that the negatives don’t mean anything once they put the Burgundy and Blue back on.

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