Nepotism it might be but Pittsburgh Penguins/USA Hockey coach Dan Bylsma has given roster spots to two of his boys, Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik. The duo have served as Bylsma's 'shut down pair' for the better part of four years and are rarely not on the ice together (when everyone's healthy that is). At 33 and 32 respectfully, Orpik and Martin are easily the elder statesmen of the USA Olympic squad. The larger Olympic ice surface might expose their lack of speed, but the pair have amazing shot blocking skills and are sure to be integral to USA Hockey's penalty killing unit. Their veteran experience in both the NHL and the Olympics is also coveted.
For Paul Martin, this is the third time he's been named to USA's Olympic squad but hopefully 2014 will be the first time he plays in the Games. He didn't dress for a game in 2006 and a poorly timed leg injury cost him in 2010. Martin is currently on the Penguins IR with a broken tibia but is expected back sometime in mid-January. The Minnesota native has two goals, nine assists, and fifty-two blocks in twenty-three games this season.
Martin said of the opportunity, "I’m not getting any younger. And the window of opportunity is so much smaller. I’m definitely grateful for this opportunity. The way the last year and a half has gone, I’m a lot more comfortable with where I’m at and ready to go.”
He added, “For this to actually happen it is that much more meaningful, especially with what’s happened in the past. I was pumped it when I found out. It has a lot more meaning for me where I’m at in my career."
For Brooks Orpik, Sochi will be his second straight Olympic Games. He is one of the thirteen players returning to the Games after 2010's heartbreaking loss to Canada. He played in all six games in Vancouver and finished with a plus-2 rating. Orpik's heavy hitting prowess will not translate well on the bigger sheet of ice, but his net protection and stick checking will come in handy. He also moves the puck up ice very well. Orpik has missed eight games this year via a concussion. He has one goal, seven assists, ninety-seven hits, and sixty-nine blocks so far in 2013-2014.
Comparing his two Games experiences, Orpik said, “In Vancouver (then USA general manager) Brian Burke pounded it into our heads that everybody was picking us to finish seventh or eighth. There weren’t high expectations outside of our locker room. From Day 1 Burke said our only goal was a gold medal. Everybody inside the room bought into that. Everybody outside from the start of the tournament didn’t think that was realistic based on their picks for the tournament. We only had two or three guys on the team last time that had Olympic experience. There will be a dozen or so on this team. The expectations will be a lot higher going into it this year.”
Orpik also echoed Martin's sentiment about timing, saying, "Realistically I’m not getting any younger. This might be my last realistic chance at it.”
And that, plus their defensive talent, might be the real reason why Dan Bylsma has them on the squad.
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