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Brooks Orpik played 15 full seasons as an NHL defenseman, the last five of which came as a member and alternate captain of the Washington Capitals. On a recent appearance the That’s Hockey Talk podcast, the former alternate captain discussed his time in the NHL with both Washington and the Pittsburgh Penguins, Alex Ovechkin’s chase to become the NHL’s all-time leading goal scorer, and more.
Initially drafted 18th overall by the Pens in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, Orpik played parts of 11 seasons in the Steel City before signing with the Caps as a free agent on a five-year contract, along with fellow blueliner and former Penguins teammate Matt Niskanen (who was inked to a seven-year deal).
“No, no…I remember picking [former Penguins forward] Max Talbot’s brain a little bit because he went to Philadelphia”, said Orpik of being on the other side of the Capitals-Penguins rivalry, “And I don’t know if that eased it at all, but gave me some good info going into it on how to kind of handle it.”
“I think it also helped too because the year I went, Matty Niskanen also signed…it probably cushioned it a little going into it. But I remember the first game [back in Pittsburgh] everything about it was just, like flying in there, going to the hotel, walking to the other locker room, it was weird. And then getting to the game was even more weird. As excited as you are to play the game, you want the game to be over as quick as possible…I don’t think it was ever completely normal three or four years later going back there…”
Orpik, who was named to the Washington Player Development department to work with the team’s defensive prospects, also talked about Ovechkin’s historic career, including the Capitals’ captain’s chase to become the NHL’s all-time leading goal scorer, having recently passed Gordie Howe for second.
“…The thing I admire the most about Ovi is, he’s probably not as reckless as he was when he was younger, he’s still physical, but even this year, I’m like ‘man, he’s still [physical]’, he picks his spots a little better but if you look at just durability, it’s crazy to me.”
“I think there were times where you thought ‘is this guy’s career going to go south now?’ (referring to the period in which Ovechkin’s production in goals slowed amid a multitude of coaching changes). Now at this age, it’s incredible what he’s doing. I’m working player development now for Washington so I watch all the games. And just watching him, especially with all the injuries they’ve had too, you’d figure maybe they’d have a lot more slumps than they’ve had, or Ovi would be forced to do things differently, but he hasn’t slowed down…everytime you doubt though the last couple years, he just kind of turns it up another gear and it’s amazing to watch.”
The two former teammates, who collided on many occasion in both regular season and in postseason games during Orpik’s tenure in Pittsburgh, revisited the physical encounters once the longtime Pens rearguard joined the Caps.
“It was funny, when I was playing with him, he’d always try to dig ’em up on YouTube and we’d have a good laugh about it.”
Orpik was selected as a member of two United States Olympic teams, in 2010 (where Team USA fell in a memorable Gold Medal Game to Canada) and 2014 in Sochi, Russia; both times he was a member of the Penguins.
“You remember that T.J. Oshie game in Sochi, that shootout game we wind up winning. And they take a guy from each team [for a drug test], that was my last year in Pittsburgh, and sure enough after that game I got selected and Ovi got selected. And neither of us could pee on the spot, so we both sat there for about an hour and it was just me and him. And so we wound up having a couple of beers together sitting in this room trying to do a drug test.”
To see Orpik’s full appearance, see the video below:
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