Brooks Orpik turned 30 Sunday. He described his birthday as pretty uneventful. What hasn't been uneventful is his time with the Penguins.
The Penguins' first-round pick a decade ago out of Boston College, Orpik has been a member of the organization through three presidents, two general managers, four head coaches, three captains and two arenas. During that time, the team went from Stanley Cup contender, to a lottery pick contender and back to Cup contender.
As the resident "old guy" among the team's group of core players, Orpik has appeared in 449 regular season games with the team since debuting in 2002-03, 16th-most in franchise history. Among defensemen, only former all-stars Ron Stackhouse (621) and Dave Burrows (573) have played more games for the Penguins.
Yesterday, he discussed his time with the team, becoming "old" and wearing No. 29 as a rookie:
Is it hard to believe he's been with the team for a decade?
"Yeah. Times flies by pretty quick, that’s for sure. It’s definitely a whole lot different now. Just the whole state of the organization as opposed to when I got drafted here. There’s been a lot of change over. (Marc-Andre Fleury) is probably the second-longest guy. There’s not a lot of guys left from when we started, but that’s probably a good thing."
Does he feel like the "old" guy of the core group?
"It’s kind of felt like that the last few years the way the team’s been formed. I don’t really consider myself old, but it is for this group, a little bit older."
What's the biggest change in the franchise in the past 10 years?
"I would just say the commitment level throughout the whole organization. Everyone, I think from top to bottom, everyone’s top priority is to put a lot of pride into their work and what they do. I think maybe before, it was kind of scattered across the board where some guys were all in, some guys weren’t. And now, you can look at the people they bring and the people they draft, they’re here to win. That’s the top priority. Just the whole environment here is really competitive."
Did he ever fear for the organization's future?
"We had such a young team then when there was all that talk about Kansas City. I think at that point, so many of the young guys were just excited to be in the league, we didn’t really pay attention to it too much. I think we knew it was a realistic possibility, especially since Kansas City had that brand new arena sitting there and it was pretty enticing I’m sure for the owners. Looking at the fan base now and the popularity in the sport here, it’s tough to imagine it not being here."
Did he play a role in improving the committment level when he signed his multi-year contract in 2008?
That was probably getting good advice from guys like (former Penguins) Gary Roberts and Darryl Sydor. They had the experience of playing in other areas like Florida or places that kind of seem like they would be nice places to live in. They really said playing here later in their careers, how good it was to play here. You go to Florida, you think it’s going to be nice and pretty, but if you don’t have a good working environment, guys who are committed and have hockey as their top priority, it makes for a really long season. So when I think when you do have a group, it makes the season go by a lot easier.
On wearing No. 29 as a rookie in 2002-03 instead of his now signature No. 44.
"I didn’t have a choice. That was just the one that was given to me. It wasn’t even a new jersey. I think it was (former Penguins enforcer Krzysztof) Oliwa’s (right) old jersey. I remember my first game, looking down at my jersey, from the neck all the way down to the emblem, it was sewn up. Probably from being torn in a fight. It was Oliwa’s old jersey. It was only six games I wore it."
(Photos: Orpik first-Adrian Wyld/Associated Press; Orpik second-Justin K. Aller/Getty Images; Orpik third-Abelimages / Getty Images; Fourth-Getty Images)