|Silver-medalist Brooks Orpik had quite a media gathering when he returned to Mellon Arena for Tuesday's game-day skate.
Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik
might have returned to Mellon Arena on Tuesday with a silver medal instead of gold, but that didn’t take away from how much he enjoyed participating in his first Olympic Games.
“The whole experience was great,” Orpik said. “It was obviously not the outcome you wanted. We get going here in Pittsburgh right away so (any looking back on the Games) probably won’t happen until after the season when the dust settles. I’ll reflect and probably be pretty proud of what we accomplished up there.”
Orpik and his U.S. teammates were not expected to be much of a threat to medal when the preliminary round began back on Feb. 16, but with each passing victory, including a 5-3 defeat of Canada in the final game of the round-robin portion, the team’s confidence began to grow as American pride swelled across the country.
In the end Sidney Crosby
and the Canadians dashed the Americans’ dream of capturing only the United States’ third Olympic gold in the past 50 years when the Penguins captain scored 7:40 into overtime to give Canada a 3-2 victory early Sunday night. Crosby’s goal hardly takes away from all that Orpik and those 22 other U.S. players were able to accomplish in Vancouver.
As expectations for the Americans continued to grow south of the Canadian border throughout the tournament, Orpik said the team was able to realize the effect their success was having back home.
“It was amazing,” he said. “After every game you would check your phone and you would have random phone numbers you didn’t even know who it was congratulating you. It showed how important the game was down here. Obviously with the TV ratings, here in the States, it was something that was good for hockey.”
Nothing was better for hockey in terms of the action, the ratings and the overall good of the game than both United States-Canada matchups. In fact, the Gold Medal game drew an average of 27.6 million viewers, surpassing the viewership of the Grammy Awards, World Series and NCAA Championship, to name a few events.
Orpik said that atmosphere inside Hockey Canada Place for those games was on par with some of the big games the Penguins played against Washington and Detroit on their way to last season’s Stanley Cup championship.
“It was an away game for us,” Orpik said. “The whole crowd was rooting against us with the exception of one tiny little section. It was no different than those playoff games against Detroit or Washington last year. The physicality was the same. Obviously the emotional level was jacked up pretty good.”
What was also pretty good throughout the Olympics was the way Orpik and his defense partner, the Los Angeles Kings Jack Johnson, performed together in a shutdown role against the top players in the game – including Crosby.
Perhaps if Orpik and Johnson had been on the ice against Crosby in overtime on Sunday, the outcome would have been different. The two went head-to-head on many of their shifts during the two U.S.-Canada matchups, including one shift in the first meeting where Orpik stood Crosby up in a one-on-one rush, forcing Crosby into taking a penalty as he tried to maneuver past Orpik.
“The first (game) he split me wide open with what he thought was a shoulder and I thought was an elbow,” Orpik said. “I think I got him back towards the end of the game. We had a pretty good laugh about that one afterwards.”
Crosby ended up getting the last laugh overall with his dramatic overtime winner. Orpik said it was disappointing to get so far and not complete the journey with the ultimate prize, but he is glad that if his team had to lose it was Crosby who scored the goal.
“It’s obviously pretty deflating,” Orpik said. “When we tied it up there you go from the highest emotion to the lowest when you lose. To be honest, and I’m not just saying this to say it, if they were going to beat us I was glad he was the guy who scored.”
Orpik said he and Crosby were able to talk about the goal, the matchups which captivated an entire continent and just the overall Olympic experience when they flew back to Pittsburgh together following the game.
“We talked about the whole experience,” Orpik said. “We talked about the game, talked about different players on each team. Like I said, if they were going to beat us, I was happy he was the guy who scored against us. We played hard against each other and it was fun playing against each other. (Pittsburgh) is where we spend most of our time. I don’t think anything from there is going to change our relationship here.”
Now that he is back in Pittsburgh, Orpik said the goal for himself is to use his experience from Vancouver to help carry him through the final 20 games of the regular season as the Penguins battle the New Jersey Devils for the Atlantic Division crown.
“You try to avoid any fatigue or hangover from it and try to get going here,” Orpik said. “We are right back in a playoff race here with 20 games to go.
“If anything I am just trying to carry the momentum, experience and confidence you gain there into the season here. … I am just trying to get back adjusted to the time here. It was a tough day of travel (Monday).”
Because Orpik had to play six highly-emotional games in such a short period, and then spent much of Monday traveling from Vancouver to Pittsburgh, head coach Dan Bylsam says Orpik’s and Crosby’s minutes will be monitored as the Penguins return to action on Tuesday night against the Buffalo Sabres.
“We have a plan for today and tomorrow and the next day,” Bylsma said. “The plan sometimes goes to the wayside, but we do have an idea of how we’re going to try to manage where they’re at for games and ice time.”