SOCHI, Russia — Brooks Orpik has only been here four days, and he already has found time to watch some short track speed skating. He’d like to make it up to Krasnaya Polyana for some of the mountain events at some point, too.
The fact that he’s thinking about anything other than Team USA’s quest for a gold medal has taken a concerted effort for the Penguins defenseman.
“I told myself with this one just to get out to more events and just enjoy the whole experience of it more,” Orpik said after Team USA’s 7-1 win Thursday against Slovakia. “I guess I’m one of the older guys now. I was definitely one of the younger guys at the last one, and I think I’ll probably appreciate this one a little more. At the last one, you’re kind of so excited to be there that it goes by so quick.”
Orpik is 33 now, and he’s getting the sense that if age doesn’t keep him off the team in 2018, the NHL will by deciding not to allow its players to compete. So, in all likelihood, this is it for his international hockey career. Vancouver was a blast, as Team USA came one goal away from winning gold, but he’s actively trying to make sure he has as many memories as he can from Sochi, regardless of what happens on the ice.
This time, instead of having a large group of family watching him, it’s just his wife, Erin, and his dad, Rick. Erin already has secured tickets to the ladies free skating event Feb. 20.
Orpik has enjoyed the layout of the Sochi Games, where the Coastal Cluster venues are all within walking distance of the Olympic Village. It’s made it easier for him to get around and soak it up.
“Vancouver was more spread out,” Orpik said. “In Vancouver, the off days you were in the city, away from the Olympics. It’s definitely been different.”
During the United States’ easy victory Thursday, Orpik didn’t have to do too much. He was on the ice for 6 minutes, 3 seconds and in that span tallied a plus-minus of plus-3. As the second-oldest player on the team, he would like to think that he carries an expanded role this time around that has nothing to do with being a stable force behind the blue line.
“Leadership is one of those things where you just try to be yourself and try to be aware that people are watching you, watching how you act in certain situations,” Orpik said. “If you think that some of those younger guys don’t have eyes on you, I think you’re naive. I think back to when I was a younger guy, and you’re watching how guys handle themselves and just trying to learn off their body language in certain situations.”
T.J. Oshie, who is 27 and playing in his first Olympics, believes Orpik will have that kind of impact on Team USA.
“You can tell by his presence that he’s a team-first guy,” Oshie said. “He’s one of those guys that will do anything that the team needs. I’ve only played with him one game, but it feels like that’s the way he leads. He’s the guy that’s going to go out there and make that big blocked shot. I think when guys see that they follow that.”
For Orpik, it’s not that he’s just happy to be here, but there’s certainly an element of that.
“I think it’s an honor every time you play for Team USA,” Orpik said. “Every year, you see USA hockey getting stronger and stronger. There were five or six guys I am friends with who are defensemen that didn’t make the team that were probably very deserving. You just feel lucky to be a part of it.”
J. Brady McCollough: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BradyMcCollough.