By the Broooks

After A Roller Coaster Off Season, Brooks Orpik Is Back To Help The Caps Defend Its Cup Crown

Brooks Orpik is back where he has been before.

The veteran defenseman, who helped the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup title in June, was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche as part of a salary dump designed to retain fellow Caps blueliner John Carlson.

After the Avalanche bought out his contract, Orpik became a free agent looking for a new team. He looked no further than his previous employer.

"I didn't really want to sell the house and move, with two kids," said Orpik, who added he was reading to his daughters at the time of the trade. "That was one of the main factors."

The buyout he received from Colorado general manager Joe Sakic was a blessing because it allowed the 15-year NHL veteran to choose where he wanted to continue his career. He signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Caps a month later.

The only Cap who had previously lifted the Cup, the 6-foot-3 Orpik is known for his solid defense and physical play. In the finals against the Vegas Golden Knights he pitched in with timely assists along with the game-winning goal in Game Two of the finals.

"The second time, you definitely appreciate it more," said Orpik, who also won the Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009. "You understand how hard it is."

Born in San Francisco, but raised in Amherst, N.Y., Orpik played three seasons at Boston College, and capped his college career in 2001 with BC's first NCAA title in 52 years.

"If I had to do it again, I don't think anything would change," he admitted. "Those were three of the most fun years of hockey I ever had. I don't think I could have picked a better place."

Orpik, whose younger brother, Andrew, also played for BC, brought the Cup to his alma mater the first time he won it, and No. 44 returned to the campus on Chestnut Hill this summer as part of  his day with the trophy.

Orpik has also had several opportunities to represent the U.S. internationally, including in both the World Championships and the Olympic Winter Games. The highlight came in 2010, when he was a member of the silver-medal American squad that came up an overtime goal short of Olympic gold in Vancouver.

"Every time, it's kind of surreal to play for the national team," he said about donning the USA sweater. "There's a certain type of pride you feel."

He recalled how pundits had picked Team USA to finish seventh in Vancouver-but explained it's not always the most talented team that does well, especially in such an abbreviated tournament.

"They did a really good job of constructing that team, and it's why we had success," he said.

Orpik remembered how players on that particular squad all pulled together for a common goal, rather than individual accolades-much like Washington's team this spring.

The previous two editions of the Capitals stayed relatively healthy while cruising to a pair of President's Trophies as the NHL's top regular-season team. Come the postseason, though, they were bounced by Pittsburgh in the second round. The main culprit, as Orpik saw it, was they "didn't react to adversity well."

In 2017-18, the Capitals incorporated several new faces, and Orpik admitted that Washington probably wasn't a playoff team early on. The Caps finished third in the Eastern Conference, and were down two games to Columbus in the first round before they won four straight.

"We hit our stride at the right time," he pointed out. 

Washington dispatched an old nemesis in Pittsburgh in the second round and then rebounded from a three games-to-two deficit against Tampa Bay to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1998. From there the Caps roared back after dropping the series opener to claim the Cup for the first time in the 44-year history of the franchise.

"The whole group had a ton of confidence. It was a super, super fun team to be a part of," he said. 

At this time in his career, Orpik is taking it one season at a time. He thought he could have perhaps signed for two years somewhere else, but added he has a good feel for the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and that one year is preferable in his situation with his wife, Erin, and their two girls, Harlow and Brooklyn.

"It looks like we're going year by year at this point," he said. "Going back to Washington was best for my family."

As for what happens after he hangs up his competitive skates, Orpik feels all pro players should have a plan in place for when they're not picking up a paycheck anymore.

"I'd be surprised if it wasn't something related to hockey," he said of his future.

"Some say it'll be coaching, and maybe those people are right. It's not set in stone, but it's a good possibility."

 


Roman J. Uschak is a freelance writer from Union, N.J.

 

Issue: 
2018-10

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