There were plenty of disappointed folks when Semyon Varmlov’s once-promising Caps career ended with a trade to Colorado earlier this month. There were the stat nerds, who had long argued Varlamov’s worth vis a vis fellow youngster Michal Neuvirth. There were the Slavophiles, who saw the team’s once mighty Russian delegation reduced to just two. There were the Varlamov jersey owners, who had seemed to be everywhere during the 2009 playoff run.
And then there was Joe Pike. Who has Varlamov’s image tattooed on his right forearm. Wearing a red Caps jersey.
“I’m not best friends with him or anything like that,” the 44-year old said when I got him on the phone this week. “I like goalies, and he was The Future.”
Indeed, Varlamov was the future when Pike – a former Hershey Bears season ticket holder – began following him in the AHL. Pike has never played hockey, but he’s always had a fascination with goaltenders – their unique mentality, their isolation as the final level of defense -- and Varlamov had displayed plenty of potential at Hershey. What sealed the deal, though, was a photo Pike took himself from his seats behind the net, a stirring action photo of Varlamov making a save.
The goalie was wearing Hershey white at the time, but knowing that the Bears’ home scheme wouldn’t show up well on his skin, Pike asked his tattoo artist to use the same image except with Varlamov in Caps red.
“I was hoping he’d be [in Washington] for a long time, anyway,” Pike said. “Maybe not a [16-] year goalie like Kolzig was, but eight, nine years.”
The first sign of trouble came last offseason, when Varlamov changed his number from 40 to 1, already rendering the tattoo slightly inaccurate.
“Oh well, not much I can do about it now,” Pike remembered thinking.
Then things got more serious. Varlamov again struggled with injuries. He didn’t even get the nod during the playoff series against Tampa Bay, when it seemed the Caps could use a spark. And then came the offseason machinations, with people in the Russian’s camp talking up a possible departure for the KHL and the franchise putting up an indifferent front.
“The way things were going, I wasn’t too upset,” Pike said, of the eventual trade that sent the goalie to Colorado for two draft picks. “I knew something was gonna happen. It was kind of like, are the Caps gonna get rid of him or let him go back to Russia.”
Pike has 10 tattoos, including a Jason-style hockey mask with the Bears logo, but none other featuring a specific player’s image. He’s thinking about using a Kolzig figurine as inspiration for his next hockey tattoo, since as a forever Cap, Kolzig’s jersey could never get out-of-date.
Or maybe it’ll be a forward. Shortly after Pike started following the Caps a decade or so ago, he became a huge fan of first-round draft pick Eric Fehr, even buying a Brandon Wheat Kings jersey in honor of Fehr’s junior hockey career. He had taken a picture of Fehr that would have been perfect for a tattoo, but a few days after the Varlamov deal, the winger was also shipped out of town.
“The news of him getting traded to Winnipeg threw me for a loop,” Pike told me. “I was more devastated about that than I was the Varly trade.”
Remarkably, Pike said he might still get the Fehr art, in honor of his D.C. career. As for the Varly tattoo, he said his friends haven’t given him too much grief, at least not yet, although one mutual friend asked his wife if he were on suicide watch. I asked what he thinks when he sees Varlamov on his arm.
“I look at it all the time,” Pike said. “I was actually at a party last Saturday, and some of my friends asked if I would get his name scratched out. I was like, ‘No, I’ll probably just leave it where it is.’ Maybe if another goalie comes along with 40 I might put it on top, I guess.”