Unmasking Semyon Varlamov, His Accuser and the Colorado Avalanche

In the past week, both Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy and center Matt Duchene have talked about the adversity a hockey team faces over the course of the season. Before Semyon Varlamov’s arrest, the Avs biggest adversity this season stemmed from a second period deficit against the Winnipeg Jets in a game that the Avalanche ultimately won. After the goaltender’s arrest for domestic violence, adversity has a new sticking point for a team that has won ten out of their first eleven games.

From all sides, people are screaming for patience. “Don’t judge Varlamov until he has been proven guilty” and “this matter has nothing to do with hockey” are the two most used arguments. While these may be noble, it also, in a sense, seems to reduce the seriousness of the accusations. Even more so, it’s an attitude that puts the burden of proof and the fault on the victim, Evgeniya Vavrinyuk.

Domestic violence is an unspoken epidemic, and one that even in the last century was accepted or at least purposefully ignored by U.S. society. One in four women are victims of domestic violence, and only a quarter of instances are reported to officials. Worse still, women who do come forward are often told to keep quiet, are publicly humiliated, and largely ignored, as we’ve seen on college campuses throughout the country.

All of this brings us back to the Varlamov case. On radio talk shows, blogs and Twitter, the idea has come about that Vavrinyuk and her lawyer are creating a media circus around what could be false claims. Vavrinyuk, a 24-year-old model, has also received threats from those in Russia and faced public scrutiny here in the United States.

Only four days separate Semyon Varlamov from the time the accusation apparently occurred and his start in net for the Avs against the Dallas Stars.

I’m not assuming Varlamov’s guilt, and I would like to wait and see how the case plays out before jumping to judgment. However, I do not condone blaming the victim in this case, in any way. As a culture, this kind of behavior needs to stop. It does not matter what kind of campaign her lawyer may be orchestrating in the mind of the public. If Varlamov can only be brought to court by a prosecutor, then Vavrinyuk must be given the same respect.

Even in saving Varlamov’s innocence for the justice system, the Avalanche seem to be taking the situation entirely too lightly. They waited less than an hour after Varlamov’s hearing to announce that he would be traveling with the team. They believe that a statement of silence until they have more to report is the best policy.

While they want to show support for their own players, giving the goalie a reprieve while the frenzy dies down would seem to make the most sense for everyone. Tensions are high right now, and the story has grabbed headlines for the past three days. Returning to net in the middle of the media circling is pinning headlines onto Varlamov’s performance in net as a commentary on his legal issues. The graphic descriptions in the police report are not words that fade from the conscience over a couple of days.

This is a big deal and the Avalanche should not ignore the sensitive nature of the alleged crime.

Let me repeat the number again. One in four women have faced domestic violence.

We all know someone.

So giving everyone a chance to take a deep breath, including Varlamov who spent a night in jail this week, is a better PR move than pretending nothing happened until there is something to report.

Yes, the Avalanche and coach Roy have been through this before when he was a player. However, the description of Roy’s domestic dispute, even at the time of the occurrence, was much tamer.

Perhaps the Avalanche know something that the public does not and this issue will soon be resolved. That would be best for everyone. A misunderstanding that grew into much more. Right now, it’s a misunderstanding with weight.

The greatest black mark on the Colorado Avalanche franchise remains their handling of the Steve Moore-Todd Bertuzzi incident in the years since the on the ice attack. The Avs have a history of mishandling such stories.

Being cautious with a fluid situation may cost you a hockey game, but it won’t cost you your reputation.