Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin are certainly no strangers to international hockey. Both have suited up multiple times for Team USA, with Orpik playing in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. Martin has never played an Olympic contest, despite making the previous two U.S. Olympic squards — he was a reserve in 2006, while he missed the 2010 tournament with injury.
USA Hockey Magazine contributor Joe Sager sat down with the Penguins blueliners shortly after it was announced they made the team to gather their thoughts on representing their country, making the team together and expectations for Team USA in the tournament.
Joe Sager: How honored are you to make the team?
Brooks Orpik: It’s definitely a huge honor.
JS: How did you find out you made the team?
BO: I found out the same way everybody else did [watching the Winter Classic on TV]. I wasn’t nervous at all going up to it. Once they started to announce it, I started to get nervous. There was a lot of excitement at the household. It’s cool how they did that with the kids. I was hoping they didn’t fall down. It was a lot fun watching it.
JS: Have you thought about being paired up with Paul Martin?
BO: Speculation is a good word. I don’t think either one of us really thought about that. When you get selected to a team like that, you’re just excited to be part of it.
JS: What makes you and Paul a good defensive pair?
BO: I think we communicate really well together. Communication at this level is super important. Paul is great to pay with. He is very consistent. I know there is a certain comfort level for us.
JS: How important is it to come together quickly as a team?
BO: You just have to come together really quickly. You get one practice together and then you’re playing. If you lose one or two games, you get in a pretty big hole. We came together really quickly last time and that really helped us.
JS: How different is it to play for your country?
BO: It’s definitely a lot different. I don’t know how to describe it. There’s a different connection with those guys, a different feeling. It’s only two weeks, but guys come together really quickly and we’re all pulling for the same thing. It’s just different. There is one goal in mind and everyone contributes toward that.
JS: Team USA won’t surprise anyone this time, right?
BO: The expectations are a lot greater. The last one, Brian Burke really pounded in our heads that everyone was picking us to finish seventh or eighth and everyone kind of rallied around that. I think, this time, the expectations will be a lot higher. I don’t think anyone will feel more pressure, but I just don’t think you’ll sneak up on any of the teams. I think other teams will respect us more.
JS: How much do you want to win gold?
BO: It’s funny looking back on it. A lot of guys were so disappointed getting a silver medal. It’s crazy when you watch all the other sports and see how excited other athletes are to get a silver medal. I think it was just probably the way we lost and who we lost to and who scored the goal. It was different for us. I am sure guys, a couple weeks or a couple months later or after the season, maybe appreciated it a little more. It’s definitely a pretty cool thing even though it wasn’t the ultimate goal you were looking for.
JS: How honored are you to make the team?
Paul Martin: It means a lot. Anytime you get to represent your country, it’s special. Going in ’06 and missing in ’10 makes it that much more special for me. Getting this opportunity is something that you dream about, so I am definitely looking forward to it.
JS: Were you nervous you might be left off the team since you were injured?
PM: With the injury, it was disappointing, but as far as my play and the other guys that were up, I was confident that I’d be named and be there, but, at the same time, anything can happen and you never know. I did what I could control and that was preparing and working hard. To hear my name called was definitely special. It was a little nerve wracking, but once I saw No. 7 turn around, it was a little emotional.
JS: Do you hope to be back playing games soon?
PM: I’d like to think I’ll be OK soon. Hopefully, I can get 8-10 games in at the end of January and beginning of February. We still have a lot of time left. Between now and then, I’ll definitely be playing some games. They’ve been pretty patient with it. Once I get out on the ice, I think it’ll go pretty quick.
JS: Do you think it’d help being paired with Brooks?
PM: In a tournament like this where you have one practice and then play games, I think familiarity goes a long way. I think they did that with a lot of the selections they made. That would make sense with the systems we’re going to play.
JS: What does it mean to you to make the team with Brooks?
PM: It’s special. It’s something you can’t take for granted and sometimes you forget what we’re doing, as far as being able to be selected to play in the Olympics, something you grow up watching. To get that opportunity and share it with a teammate is something I definitely won’t forget.
JS: Were you worried this injury would cost you a chance to play like the broken arm did in 2010?
PM: I definitely did. At the same time, I still have a ways to go. Anything can happen between now and then with anyone that’s still on the team or not on the team. I just make sure I get better every day and get back out on the ice and anything I can control because anything like that can happen. You just have to move forward.
From last time, the injury happened a lot earlier. I should have been back in time, but we handled the injury wrong and they had to re-break it and start all over. So, that was the tough part about that. This time, having it happen early and being able to come back and play in some games will be nice.