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For Orpik, The Hits Keep Coming

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins
Playing for a team boasting marquee players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, you might not focus on Brooks Orpik. But Orpik is an integral part of the Penguins' success.

Orpik, a defensive defenseman, is third in the League and first in the Atlantic Division with 134 hits. Orpik said he learned to take the body from watching one of the best hitters in hockey history, Hall of Famer Scott Stevens, when he was growing up.

"I guess when you're younger and you watch NHL games, you watch those above you, watch guys you like and certain guys stick out to you," Orpik told "Looking back on that, I tried to emulate guys that played a similar style to me. Scott Stevens was the one guy I used to watch a lot when I was younger. I watched him when he was in Washington and he made a big name for himself here in Jersey. I always really liked Adam Graves, who was a forward. He was a forward, but he was pretty physical himself. I think those two guys are the two guys that pop up in my mind."

Orpik, who debuted in the 2002-03 season, points to his maturation as a major reason why he has become the defenseman that he is today. 

"I think maturity comes with how long you've been in the League," Orpik said. "If I watched videos of my rookie year I think I'd be laughing at myself. I think the biggest thing about maturity is how you approach the game. I think when you are younger you are a little too anxious and you go looking for hits.

"Maybe you approach the game thinking, 'I'm going to get three big hits this game.' I think, especially as you get older, your role changes as a defenseman. It's hard to be physical in the neutral zone now with all of the speed of the game. There's certain games where there a lot more opportunities."

While Orpik relishes a big hit, he knows that being too aggressive can cause odd-man rushes in the other direction, so he is cognizant of when to make the best of the opportunity.

"I really think you have to limit your chances of going for a big hit," Orpik said. "You really get in trouble as a defenseman as you start going forward because the play can go the other way on you quick. Guys are so skilled and they always have their heads up and there's no holding or hooking in the neutral zone like there used to be."

Orpik realizes that since the NHL has sped up with the rules against hooking and holding that big hits aren't as numerous, but they are more intense.

"I think the speed of the game makes for bigger collisions," Orpik said. "But there are fewer of them. You can't really take a chance and you have to be sure that you are going to get your guy. You don't want the other team going back with a two-on-one or three-on-one.

"I think a lot of it, too, is that we're a trapping team. As a defenseman on this team, you don't have to step up too much in the neutral zone. Most of the physical play on our team takes play in the corners or in front of our own net."

Even though Orpik is a defensive defenseman, he is still one of the better skating defenseman on the Penguins. Orpik recognizes that his skating prowess helps him in the hitting department.

"I think when you talk about hitting the fundamental part of it is timing and skating. Guys that are good hitters are good skaters. I think the two biggest things are timing and skating. If the players aren't as good skaters they can't catch up to the play."
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