2010-02-10 / Sports

Orpik: from Amherst hockey to Olympics

by PATRICK J. NAGY Reporter
Brooks Orpik wasn’t originally born in Buffalo but when his name was called at the Winter Classic New Year’s Day as a member of the 2010 U.S. Olympic men’s ice hockey team, the voice on the loud speaker said from Amherst, N.Y.

East Amherst native Brooks Orpik, a member of the Stanley Cup champion, Pittsburgh Penguins, will represent Team USA at the XXI Olympic Winter Games Feb. 12-28 in Vancouver, B.C. Photo by David F. Sherman Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com East Amherst native Brooks Orpik, a member of the Stanley Cup champion, Pittsburgh Penguins, will represent Team USA at the XXI Olympic Winter Games Feb. 12-28 in Vancouver, B.C. Photo by David F. Sherman Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com The 29-year-old Stanley Cup champion defenseman with the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, Orpik, born in San Francisco but who first became involved in hockey as a child growing up in East Amherst, will represent Team USA at the XXI Olympic Winter Games Feb. 12-28 in Vancouver, B.C.

His father, Rick, couldn’t be happier.

“It’s the end of a long road, a big commitment by him and the fami l y, ” he said. “He certainly worked hard to get where he is today.”

The Olympics have special meaning for the Orpiks. Brooks was born seven months after the XIII Olympic Games in Lake Placid and named in honor of USA coach Herb Brooks, who coached USA to a 4-3 upset over the heavily favored Soviet Union in what is called “the Miracle on Ice”. USA went on to beat Finland for a gold medal.

“We were living in California at the time,” said Rick Orpik. “I could remember where I was when we upset the Russians.”

Rick said Brooks and Herb Brooks met when Brooks was attending Boston College as well as for the Wilkes-Barre/Scanton Penguins, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Penguins.

“He wanted to know if in fact we had named our kid after him and he got a laugh out of it,” said Rick Orpik. “Brooks also met Herb’s two grandchildren last year. They wanted to meet him because they thought it was neat he was named after their grandfather.”

It is the third time Brooks Orpik will be playing international hockey for Team USA. He played in the 2006 World Championships and 2000 World Juniors Championships. He was also a member of the U.S. Select team that competed in Finland in 1996 and played for Team USA in the World Under-18 Hockey Challenge in Canada in 1997.

Brooks Orpik’s hockey journey began in the Mite division of Amherst Youth Hockey when he was 10.

After one year, he played four years for the Buffalo Saints, and was on a Saint team that won the state title.

Orpik then played for the Wheatfield Blades and Nichols before transferring to Thayer Academy in Braintree, Mass. for his junior and senior years of high school.

At Thayer, Orpik was a two-time All-Independent School League Selection. After high school, Orpik stayed in Massachusetts to continue his education, attending Boston College for three years and winning a NCAA title in 2001.

He left the Eagles after his junior year and was selected by the Penguins as the 18th pick in the first round of the 2000 NHL entry level draft.

After being drafted, Orpik was sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League for two years before making his NHL debut Dec. 10, 2002 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Twenty days and six games later, he was reassigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and finished the season with them. He earned a permanent spot with the Penguins the following year, playing in 79 games.

In 427 career games, he has 72 points. In 51 games this season, he has 17 points but has consistently been at the top of the league in hits as well as blocked shots.

Team USA’s first preliminary game is at noon Tuesday against Switzerland.

A preliminary game with Canada Sunday, Feb. 21 between USA and Canada will pit Orpik against Penguins’ superstar, Sidney Crosby, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

“I was sitting with Mr. Crosby recently and we talked about how it’s going to be different for them to go against one another,” said Rick Orpik.

USA was an underdog 30 years ago. Can they pull off another “miracle on ice”?

“That what’s cool about it, that it’s 30 years later,” said Rick Orpik. “Once again they’re severe underdogs. They certainly weren’t picked to do it in 1980. I don’t think they’re picked for the gold medal this year but you never know. It’s a two-week tournament, so we’ll see who comes together better.”

e-mail: pnagy@beenews.com

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