There’s a familiarity and a comfort level between Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik, and it shows.
It’s one of the main reasons why both were selected to the U.S. men’s ice hockey team that will compete in the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, despite both enduring significant injuries less than a month before the team was named.
“I just think we communicate really well together, and communication at this level is super important,” Orpik said. “It just makes things tougher if you don’t have that communication.
“Paul is pretty easy to play with. He’s very consistent, so you can kind of assume what he’s going to do in certain situations.”
Orpik, who grew up in Amherst, N.Y., will make his second straight Olympic appearance after helping Team USA win the silver medal at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. Martin, a native of Elk River, Minn., was named to his third straight U.S. Olympic Team but will play for the first time after he didn’t see any action during the 2006 Games in Torino, Italy, and suffered a broken arm that forced him to miss the 2010 Games.
“I think going in 2006 and missing in ’10 makes it that much more special for me,” Martin said. “It means a lot, and obviously any time you get to represent your country it’s special. To get this opportunity is something you dream about, so I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
The two were considered locks to make the team by many, but there were admittedly anxious moments leading to the squad’s Jan. 1 announcement following the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. Orpik missed almost month with a concussion after he was sucker-punched by Boston’s Shawn Thornton during an early-December on-ice incident, while Martin returned to action just last week after missing 23 games with a broken tibia.
“The players that were injured, there was a certain amount of respecting the body of work they have done in the past and up to that point that went into it,” said Dan Bylsma, coach of the U.S. Olympic Team who also is Orpik and Martin’s coach in Pittsburgh as well.
“There was some assumption that they were going to be able to come back healthy and return to play like they had been playing.”
There’s also a good chance Bylsma will ask Martin and Orpik to serve as a shutdown pairing for Team USA, the same role the two provide for their coach in Pittsburgh.
“To step on the ice and know where the other guy is going to be and know what he’s going to do, I think, is a factor,” Bylsma said. “Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik have that familiarity, and they’ve gone over the boards and played against the best.
“I think that’s a confidence level. Are they going to start that way? That’s not something we’ve decided yet, but there is a familiarity if you have to put them over the boards together in those situations.”
The pair is charged with shutting down the top opposing offensive threats on a nightly basis in Pittsburgh, a list that includes the Metropolitan Division rival Washington Capitals and sniper Alex Ovechkin, who looks to lead Russia to gold on its home ice. Other top threats can be found in their own dressing room as Penguins’ teammates Evgeni Malkin, also of Russia, and Canada captain Sidney Crosby — who netted the golden goal in overtime during the 2010 Winter Games — also eye gold.
“It’s always a little bit different playing against those guys,” Orpik said of his Penguins teammates. “You just try to play as hard as you can against them. It’s definitely a little bit weird playing against the guys you play with here on a yearly basis, but it’s a lot of fun too.
“Those guys are the best in the world, so even in practice it’s a lot of fun competing against those guys every day.”
Both Martin and Orpik agree that familiarity goes a long way in a short tournament format, and that is one of the reasons why they feel they were selected to a team that features 13 Americans who were part of the 2010 silver-medal-winning effort in Vancouver.
“I think the biggest thing is you have to come together really quickly,” Orpik said. “You get one practice together; it’s not an 82-game schedule, so obviously you don’t have much of a transition or a learning period. If you lose one or two games, you really dig yourself a big hole.”
The two aren’t worried about a slow start. They’re focused on sealing the deal this year and bringing a gold medal back to the United States.
“Guys aren’t worried about contracts, scoring races and stuff like that,” Orpik said. “There’s one goal in mind, and everybody contributes towards that.
“The expectations are a lot higher. I don’t think we’ll feel any more pressure, but I don’t think we’ll sneak up on anybody this time. It’s funny, looking back on it, a lot of guys were disappointed getting a silver medal, and it’s crazy when you watch these other sports how excited other athletes are to get a silver medal. It was probably just the way we lost, who we lost to and who scored the goal. It was different for us.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.