PITTSBURGH — Capitals Coach Barry Trotz and several of his players strongly defended suspended defenseman Brooks Orpik’s character on Monday, after Orpik had been the subject of a wave of prominent criticism.
Orpik’s hit on Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta Saturday night prompted a quick and angry response during NBC’s coverage.
“If they don’t suspend [Orpik], there’s no justice,” analyst Mike Milbury said. “There should be a protest in Pittsburgh. He picks the head. It’s about a second late, after [Maatta] passes the puck. He’s a predator — we know that. He looks for people who are vulnerable. He’s done it in the past.”
And such criticism of the hit — which earned Orpik a three-game suspension — continued after the game.
“I do not agree whatsoever that Brooks Orpik plays the game honestly and doesn’t at times try to go out and hurt people,” NBC’s Jeremy Roenick said. “I think he does try to hurt people, and right here he made a complete, utter [move] to hurt Olli Maatta. …
“I don’t like it. It’s what the league’s trying to get rid of. Brooks Orpik does not fight, every time he does something that looks like it crosses the line. I don’t like that either. … When you do certain things like this, you lose the respect not just of your teammates, but the people around the game.”
“If you’re going to play that way and play on the edge, you’ve got to back it up,” added Anson Carter, “and I don’t see Brooks Orpik backing it up enough to play that style.”
Monday afternoon, Trotz strongly replied to such criticisms.
“That’s not him,” Trotz said of Orpik. “C’mon. It’s a joke. He’s not [a predator]. He’s an honest, hard-nosed player, and I think a lot of players around the league will tell you that. Does he hit hard? Absolutely. Absolutely he hits hard. But that’s not a predator. A predator is a guy that’s trying to hurt people. He’s trying to play through people in terms of [playing] hard,
“He knows Maatta,” Trotz said. “He knows a lot of players in that [Pittsburgh] dressing room, and I can tell you that a lot of players in that dressing room have a lot of respect for him. And I think it’d be very unfair to paint him that way. If you know anything about Brooks, he’s one of the classiest guys, one of the true pros in the league. And so I just think that’s really unfair.”
Trotz also suggested that the suspension wouldn’t have been as harsh if Orpik played for the Penguins, and said the speed of the game often isn’t appreciated by observers. Orpik, he said, “tries to make the right decisions all the time” and is “a first-class person on and off the ice,” an opinion echoed by Orpik’s teammates.
“If anybody’s ever been around him, they know what type of guy he is,” said John Carlson, who declined to respond to the “predator” accusation. “He was really good friends with Olli, thought a lot about him, talked a lot about him. So in terms of painting a picture, you can’t paint him as a bad person, or that he would ever want to do something like that. So that’s all I’ll say about that.”
Orpik himself gave an emotional accounting of the incident, taking responsibility and saying he thought the three-game suspension was fair.
“I was in a similar spot two weeks ago,” said Orpik, referring to his head injury during the Flyers series. “It’s tough hearing people try to say I was intentionally trying to hit him in the head. I mean, I’ve dealt with enough head and neck issues, you know? It was tough to watch.”
Meanwhile, teammate Tom Wilson — who has also been criticized for several hits in the playoffs — said the descriptions of Orpik were hard to listen to.
“He was called a lot of names after that hit, but none of them are true,” Wilson said. “He’s one of the most honest guys around the league. He plays hard but within the rules.”
Wilson said the criticism was especially biting when it came from “respected hockey guys.”
“I don’t think it’s fair for guys that have the talk shows after the games to be calling Orpik a predator,” Wilson said. “That’s not great for players to hear. Anyone that knows Orpy knows that he plays the game hard, and he plays within the rules. He’s a leader and a good guy, a good honest guy. So I wouldn’t call him a predator, and when you do get called those names, it’s not great. …
“I’m no stranger to that; every playoff series I seem to play I get a lot of that,” Wilson went on. “So it pisses me off a little bit more when they’re going after my teammates, kind of respected hockey icons that have [a platform], that have opinions on the game go and say something like that. It’s not really fair, especially when you know Orpy. Such a good guy.”