Avalanche wrong to start Varlamov

The Avs will be without their starting goalie for a few days, but their problems run deeper than that. (Doug Pensinger/Getty)

Like swallowing Buckley’s Mixture, it’s healthy for sports fans to get a dose of reality every once in a while—like witnessing a situation like the one unfolding with Semyon Varlamov and the Colorado Avalanche. That way the next time a coach talks about “The Avalanche Family” or “The Cowboys Family” or whatever team’s family in whatever sport you favour, fans can recall Varlamov’s start Friday night in Dallas and remember that talk is cheap, and will never be as valuable as points in the standings.

You’re in the family, until you find yourself accusing a player of second-degree kidnapping and third-degree assault. That is a sure way to find yourself on the outs.

Then, the family moves on without you, while reminding folks that the starting goalie with the .945 save percentage is innocent until proven guilty—which, of course, he is—while shrugging off the alleged bruises, the very real charges, and the ongoing police investigation.

Look, I’m not saying the team should shun Varlamov, or suspend him until the case is closed. That would be like refusing Varlamov bail and holding him in jail, which would be ridiculous. But show some respect, Colorado. And by respect, I mean hold off on giving him the start.

According to the arrest affidavit given by Evgeniya Vavrinyuk, she was kicked and stomped on, and dragged around by the hair by a drunken, laughing Varlamov. She claims Varlamov told her the beating would have been more severe had they been home in Russia and that this was not the first time he had beaten her.

It must be said at this point, we have only heard Vavrinyuk’s side of the story. Varlamov turned himself in to Denver police Wednesday, spent a night in jail and was released on a $5,000 bond Thursday. Then he hopped on the team charter. Friday night he is to start in goal in Dallas for the Avalanche, as if nothing was amiss.

The Avalanche referred me to their official statement when asked for comment, and thus far have refused to wade in on something that is before the courts. But on Friday, their coach, Patrick Roy, compared the decision to start Varlamov to the time he played for Colorado the very night after arriving in a trade from Montreal. Because, really, allegations of domestic violence and being traded are pretty much the same thing, right? “Why wait?” asked Roy after the morning skate in Dallas.

Roy—in my opinion, very likely the lead decision-maker here—has had his own anger management issues. He was arrested in 2000 after allegedly ripping two doors off their hinges and scaring his wife to the point she called 911. The charges were dropped and the couple made up, for a time. But to minimize the very real possibility that domestic violence did occur, by comparing it to a hockey trade, and then thrusting Varlamov into the pipes before the alleged bruises have even begun to heal is just plain wrong.

Could you not start the more-than-capable backup J.S. Giguere, as a silent acknowledgement to a societal menace that is spousal abuse? Could you not outwardly throw your support fully behind Varlamov, but give him the weekend away from the rink as a nod to those who actually have suffered at the hands of their spouses? Just in case there is some substance to these charges?

Forget, for a moment, the female season ticket holders in Colorado, and the rest of the Avs’ wives and girlfriends. Man up, Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy. It would take just the smallest gesture to show that you are taking this seriously, even though Varlamov is innocent until proven guilty. History tells us you’re going to forgive your starting goalie unequivocally—we get that. But do you have to do it this fast?

Never, never, never, dear sports fan, make the mistake of thinking that some moral ground, or an element of the greater good is more important than messing up the goaltending rotation on the first game of back-to-backs, or closing out a ballgame in the ninth. It never has been, in any sport, at any time.

The Colorado Avalanche aren’t any different from any other professional sports team. That’s the saddest part of the tale.

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