The United States men’s hockey team for the 2014 Winter Olympics was already going to have a distinct Pittsburgh Penguins flavor with coach Dan Bylsma running the Red, White & Blue bench.
That Pens theme intensified on New Year’s Day, as we learned Bylsma will have two Pittsburgh defensemen at his disposal in Sochi, Russia.
American-born Penguins blueliners Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik were announced as part of USA Hockey’s Olympic roster Wednesday afternoon at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. USA Hockey revealed the picks before a national NBC television audience following the conclusion of the NHL Winter Classic between Detroit and Toronto.
It’s the second Olympic selection for the 33-year-old Orpik, an 11th-year Penguin and New York state native. He donned the American crest in the 2010 Vancouver Games, which resulted in a memorable silver medal for Team USA, its second runner-up finish in three Olympiads.
For Martin, 32, it will be his first Olympic experience. Born in Minnesota, Martin has been with Pittsburgh since the summer of 2010, when he signed a five-year free-agent contract. He spent his first five NHL seasons with New Jersey, the team that drafted him.
Both players have battled significant injuries this season, like most of the Pittsburgh defense corps. Orpik recently returned from a concussion suffered in early December when Boston’s Shawn Thornton pummeled him unexpectedly from behind. Known primarily for his smart positioning and physical play, Orpik also represented his country at the 2000 World Juniors and 2006 World Championship.
Martin is currently recovering from a broken lower leg he sustained in late November. He’s missed the Penguins’ past 19 games and is expected to return at some point in mid-January. That timetable would leave him a couple weeks at the most to prepare for his fifth foray into international hockey (2001 World Juniors, 2004 World Cup, 2005 and 2008 World Championships).
There was an outside shot that 35-year-old Pens defender Rob Scuderi could made his international debut, but Team USA’s surplus of young talented defensemen ruled that out. Also, Pittsburgh native and Chicago Blackhawks winger Brandon Saad, 21, was left off the roster despite piling up 30 points (14g, 16a) in 42 games.
See Team USA’s entire 25-man Olympic roster here.
Team USA general manager David Poile, who holds the same position with the Nashville Predators, served as head of the Olympic selection committee. That exclusive group included Penguins GM Ray Shero, a former Poile protege, along with fellow NHL executives Brian Burke (Calgary), Stan Bowman (Chicago), Dean Lombardi (Los Angeles) and Dale Tallon (Florida).
Bylsma’s coaching staff includes Penguins assistant Tony Granato in addition to former Flyers coach Peter Laviolette and current Blue Jackets boss Todd Richards. The Pittsburgh presence in Team USA’s leadership group no doubt helped the cause of Martin and Orpik, although neither could be classified as surprise selections for Sochi.
Read Larry Snyder’s report on former Robert Morris goalie Brianne McLaughlin making her second U.S. women’s Olympic squad.