The first period wasn’t even over and Semyon Varlamov was already thinking bad thoughts.

A lousy, stinking intra-squad game on Sept. 17, the annual Burgundy-White scrimmage, had the Colorado Avalanche goalie feeling bluer than blue after the first few shots he faced. The game wasn’t even nine minutes old and Varlamov had already given up goals to White forwards J.T. Compher and Andrew Agozzino.

Was this going to be his new normal? Was all the hard work he spent rehabilitating from hip surgery going to go up in smoke? For the rest of a game in which he allowed five goals on 28 shots to a team mostly made up of rookies and minor-leaguers, doubt was Varlamov’s constant companion.

“I felt like I was playing in a soccer net, not a hockey net,” Varlamov said Sunday night. “It was my first game back in a long time and you never know how you’re going to feel. I felt like I didn’t belong on the ice in that game.”

But now? Now, Varlamov is feeling much better mentally. He had his second straight strong appearance in Colorado’s easy 5-1 win over Minnesota Sunday. Doubts about whether he could even still play in the NHL have been quelled.

Varlamov, though, knows the games haven’t started to count yet. His first real test since undergoing hip/groin surgery last season will come Oct. 5 at New York’s Madison Square Garden, in the Avs’ season opener against the Rangers.

“Right now, I’m still focusing in on getting in game shape, because I still haven’t played a (real) game since last January. I still need to keep feeling the game again,” Varlamov said. “I’ve only played two preseason games, but I feel good physically.”

Varlamov had his hip repaired by renowned Vail surgeon Dr. Marc Philippon, and he worked out daily under the guidance of Avalanche trainer Scott Woodward. The 29-year-old Russian goalie, who has two years left on a contract at a $5.9 million cap hit, raves about the jobs both did for him.

“We have an outstanding medical staff here in Colorado. And Dr. Philippon did an outstanding job,” he said.

Varlamov showed his old agility in the game against Minnesota. He was able to get down in the butterfly and back on his skates in fractions of a second, for shots and rebounds. He has shown no side effects from the surgery. Does re-injury occupy his thoughts any though?

“No, I don’t think like that. I just try to stay in the moment and right now I feel good, but I don’t think too far ahead,” he said.

Avs general manager Joe Sakic never lost faith that Varlamov could return to the form that made him a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2013-14. It was why he chose to make him the one goalie protected from the Vegas Golden Knights in the Expansion draft. The Avs believe Vegas would have chosen Varlamov had he been exposed, so they left Calvin Pickard unprotected. He wound up going to Vegas, and now Jonathan Bernier is his new backup.

“He’s a very good goalie. So was (Pickard). But I really like having him as a partner,” Varlamov said.

NOTEBOOK

The Avs sent the following players to San Antonio of the AHL Monday:

Pos.     Player                         Team (League)

LW      Andrew Agozzino*       San Antonio (AHL)

C          Alex Belzile                 San Antonio (AHL)

G          Joe Cannata*               San Antonio (AHL)

D         Nolan De Jong             San Antonio (AHL)

D         Mason Geertsen           San Antonio (AHL)

C          Felix Girard*                San Antonio (AHL)

D         Jesse Graham*              San Antonio (AHL)

C          Rocco Grimaldi*          San Antonio (AHL)

G          Spencer Martin            San Antonio (AHL)

LW      Brendan Ranford          San Antonio (AHL)

LW      Brady Shaw                  San Antonio (AHL)

LW      Shawn St-Amant          San Antonio (AHL)

RW      Trent Vogelhuber*       San Antonio (AHL)

* – player requires waivers

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Adrian Dater

Adrian Dater is a staff writer with BSNDenver. He started his journalism career way, way back in 1988 as a proofreader with the Concord Monitor as a kid out of college (Keene State College), and has wended its way since with a 25-year stop at The Denver Post, 20 of which were spent as the beat writer of the Colorado Avalanche, from its inception in 1995. Adrian has also worked as a primary hockey writer with Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, The Hockey News, Versus.com and Bleacher Report. He is the author of seven sports books, including the best-selling "Blood Feud: Colorado Avalanche v. Detroit Red Wings, The Inside Story of Pro Sports' Nastiest and Best Rivalry of Its Era" and "100 Things Avalanche Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die", which was published in October, 2016.

  • Ace O’Dale

    Should we be holding our collective breath over Aggzs and Grimaldi getting through waivers?

  • wflan

    I’m glad Varly is getting his confidence back – he’s a rock back there when he’s on his game.

    I didn’t realize Grimaldi was waiver eligible. I hate the idea of committing to bringing him up for the season and getting him playing time, OR risk having him be a healthy scratch or just not call him up and you never see what he can do in the NHL. I realize he’s 24, but he hasn’t even played half a season’s worth of NHL games. It sucks the system is set up to suppress players like him.