Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik admitted that he was nervous about his possible selection to Team USA’s roster for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
Even though Orpik, 33, was a member of Team USA’s silver-medal winning team in the 2010 Games in Vancouver, Canada, he wasn’t a lock to be included for the upcoming event.
“The last one I knew I had a pretty good chance. This one there were so many more defensemen in the mix for it, and so many good guys, they had some tough decisions,” Orpik told the Penguins official website. “You were hoping to be in the mix. You didn’t really know what they were looking for or what direction they were going to go in. You look at the list of defensemen that were on the bubble that didn’t make it, it’s a lot of guys that are well deserving of it. They had some tough decisions. Looking at it there were probably only a couple locks on defense. It was a little bit nerve racking today.”
Unlike in the 2010 Games, where the players that made the Olympic roster were notified ahead of the official announcement, this time around the players found out the roster the same moment as the fans following the NHL Winter Classic.
Amateur hockey players lined up on the ice in Ann Arbor and with the announcement of each player, the youngsters would skate to center ice, turn around and reveal the player’s name on the back of their jerseys. That’s when Orpik heard his name announced and saw his jersey.
“They did it alphabetically and it seemed like a slow process the way they were doing it for the anticipation,” Orpik said. “My wife (Erin) and I were super excited for it. If I didn’t get selected, I had that opportunity before and there were a lot of other guys that are deserving of it that haven’t had that opportunity. I would have been equally happy for those guys for the opportunity. That being said it’s definitely a huge honor.”
Orpik played in all six games for Team USA in the 2010 Games, adding a defensively responsible and physical presence. That team entered the tournament with only a few players with Olympic experience and were picked to finish in the bottom of the pack. Instead the Americans reached the Gold Medal Game, losing a heartbreaker, 3-2 in overtime, to Canada on Sidney Crosby’s winning score.
“In Vancouver (then USA general manager) Brian Burke pounded it into our heads that everybody was picking us to finish seventh or eighth,” Orpik recalled. “There weren’t high expectations outside of our locker room. From Day 1 Burke said our only goal was a gold medal. Everybody inside the room bought into that. Everybody outside from the start of the tournament didn’t think that was realistic based on their picks for the tournament. We only had two or three guys on the team last time that had Olympic experience. There will be a dozen or so on this team. The expectations will be a lot higher going into it this year.”
Orpik does not believe those expectations will add any more pressure on the team than in the previous Games.
“I don’t think guys will feel more pressure,” he said. “I just think you won’t be able to surprise anyone or sneak up on anyone. I think guys felt pressure in Vancouver. Inside the room the gold medal was everyone’s goal at the tournament. I don’t guys will feel more pressure. I think other teams will just have more respect for our team.”
One helpful aspect with the way Team USA’s roster is constructed this year is having players from similar teams. Players like David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis), Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh (NY Rangers), Zach Parise and Ryan Suter (Minnesota) and Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk (Toronto) are playing among familiar faces.
Orpik could be paired with his usual Penguins defensive partner Paul Martin in the tournament. And he’ll also be among fellow Penguins representatives in Ray Shero (USA associate general manager), Dan Bylsma (head coach) and Tony Granato (assistant coach).
“That will be huge. It definitely can’t hurt,” Orpik said. I remember in Vancouver we played (in Pittsburgh) Sunday then flew up there Sunday night. We had one practice together on Monday and our first game was on Tuesday. Any familiarity guys have with each other from NHL teams or international teams playing together will only help you, especially in short tournaments like that. You can’t afford to lose a couple games and say you’re still adjusting. It’s not an 82-game schedule. If you lose a couple games you can really dig yourself a hole.”
Orpik came so close to winning gold for his native country four years ago, and he realizes that February could be his final opportunity to accomplish gold for America.
“Realistically I’m not getting any younger,” Orpik said. “This might be my last realistic chance at it.”