(News Senior Sports Columnist Jerry Sullivan is profiling U.S. athletes leading up to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, which begin Friday).
Brooks Orpik, who was a steady defenseman on the U.S. team that won silver four years ago in Vancouver, will try again to add a gold medal to the Stanley Cup he won with the 2009 Penguins. Orpik is expected to be paired with Paul Martin, his blue-line partner for Pittsburgh.
In early December, Orpik suffered a concussion on a cheap shot by Boston’s Shawn Thornton, putting his Olympic prospects in doubt. But the former East Amherst resident returned to the ice two days after Christmas and was selected for his second U.S. team.
Orpik had an assist Wednesday night against the Sabres, Orpik giving him one goal and 12 points for the Penguins, who are the overall leaders in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
But Orpik isn’t relied on to score. It’s his steadying influence and veteran leadership that are invaluable to a hockey team. At 33, he is the second-oldest player on the U.S. team after Miller, who is a few months older. Orpik knows how to get ready for the physical demands of an Olympic year.
“It’s all about making sure you prepare yourself properly for the game,” Orpik said. “Especially in an Olympic year, you have to be disciplined. Your off-ice habits have to stay together. You usually don’t get that West Coast trip with one or maybe two games in five days.
“It’s now like three games in four days. And now we have long travel to deal with to go to Russia for the Olympics. This isn’t Vancouver. You’re really going to have to fight to stay sharp.”