Starkey: Orpik an iconic Penguin
TribLIVE Sports Videos
The moment passed quickly — so quickly that it really must be revisited.
All kinds of things were happening April 2 at Consol Energy Center. The Buffalo Sabres were in the midst of snapping the Penguins' 15-game winning streak. Sidney Crosby had broken his jaw in the previous game. The city was buzzing about the acquisition of Jarome Iginla.
So it was easy to overlook the brief dedication that occurred early in the game, when the Penguins honored one of their iconic players — Brooks Orpik — for playing his 622nd game. That was one more than any defenseman in franchise history and certainly the most for a defenseman who once was switched to left wing against his will by Michel Therrien.
I'm not sure Orpik will ever be able to laugh about that one.
The crowd cheered as a montage of thunderous hits played on the video screen. It was enough to get Orpik to smile (though certainly not enough to get him to blink; nothing could do that).
And then he wanted it to end.
“I don't really love the personal recognition,” he said Tuesday after practice. “But it was definitely cool from the crowd. I had to acknowledge it.”
He did, but only after teammate Deryk Engelland implored him.
“It was a big moment,” Engelland recalled. “That's a guy I look up to. It wasn't just me trying to make him give a little wave, either. Everyone wanted to see it.”
There's a lot of hockey left in the 32-year-old Orpik, who entered Wednesday's game leading the team in hits and blocks. He also was plus-17, a figure topped by only four defensemen in the league.
But this seemed like a good time to take stock of a special career. Asked to identify his three favorite NHL moments, Orpik chose these:
1. Winning the Cup.
2. Getting drafted back-to-back with former Boston College teammate Krys Kolanos.
3. Playing his first NHL game — Dec. 10, 2002, against Toronto.
Orpik wore No. 29 that night. He suited up with one very legendary Penguin in Mario Lemieux and several not-so-legendary ones — including Ross Lupaschuk, Michal Sivek and Alexandre Daigle.
“I remember running over Tom Fitzgerald, who now works for us,” Orpik said. “I've got a video of it. I'll have to show it to him sometime.”
Orpik has run over plenty of people since, though never in such memorable fashion as on “The Shift” against Detroit in the 2008 final, when he started knocking Red Wings around like they were pinballs.
“The only time I get reminded of it is when people ask when I'm going to do it again,” he said.
From this vantage point, Orpik's career has been defined by one word: timing. He has an impeccable sense of it, whether delivering a hard hit or a brutally honest quote.
“That's probably gotten me into trouble a few times,” he conceded.
For many GMs and ex-GMs, I'd imagine their seminal Orpik moment was the draft of 2000, when teams surprisingly kept passing on him. Ten of the 13 players drafted directly in front of Orpik, who went 18th, did not play even two full seasons.
Orpik's hometown Sabres passed on him at No. 15, opting for somebody named Artem Kryukov, who has played precisely 628 fewer NHL games than Orpik. Which is to say, zero.
Orpik endured the bad years — he was part of the ill-fated Generation X — but that only made the good ones sweeter. He now is the Penguins' longest-tenured player and a hugely respected presence in the room.
“You always knew what kind of leader he was on the ice,” defenseman Douglas Murray said. “But now I see. He is what you call a true professional. Nobody's going to outwork him.”
Orpik could have gone to Los Angeles or New York for more money after the '08 final, but he remembers getting some superb advice from Gary Roberts, at a bonfire in Mark Recchi's backyard.
Roberts asked a question: Is a slightly bigger contract worth it if you're not happy?
Orpik answered that question for himself — and won a Cup the very next season.
Did I mention his impeccable sense of timing?
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers nose tackle McCullers finds performance, fitness go hand in hand
- Padres snap Pirates’ 7-game win streak
- Pittsburgh roots shape former Md. governor’s outlook in run for president
- Point Park graduate’s ‘mugshot’ photos hit nerve on racism
- Driver dies, students hurt in school van crash in Indiana County
- Penn State lands 4-star offensive lineman from Reading
- Paddleboard classes focus on fitness
- Pirates notebook: Burnett rediscovers vintage form
- East Franklin family held at gunpoint in Arnold; no one hurt
- Volunteers pull weeds, clear debris from Hempfield’s neglected 14th Quartermaster monument
- Hurdle says Pirates must eliminate defensive gaffes