PITTSBURGH – Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, a member of Team USA’s Olympic squad, said athletes aren’t that concerned about their own safety for the upcoming Sochi Games.
“It’s more they’re concerned over their family members going because they’re not in the village,” Orpik said Monday prior to the Penguins’ 3-0 win against the Buffalo Sabres inside the Consol Energy Center. “We’ve been pretty assured they’re going to be safe where they are. It’s one of those unfortunate things. That’s just the way it is, not just because it’s Russia. I think that’s just the world we live in now. No matter where you are there’s always some amount of risk.”
Orpik said he follows the news closely, so it’s been hard to ignore all the warnings about terrorist attacks. The United States is moving two war ships to the Black Sea and the State Department issued an updated travel alert for the region last week.
Still, the 33-year-old Amherst native said he couldn’t to tell his father to stay home for the Olympics.
“I never brought it up because he would’ve just ignored it,” Orpik said. “There was no way he was missing it. He was going for sure.”
Orpik’s wife will also be going overseas. Players have been told to limit their traveling party. He said he had more family at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Four years ago, Orpik said he learned to appreciate Ryan Miller’s skill level “a lot more” as the Sabres goalie backstopped the U.S. to a silver medal.
“Of any goalie I’ve ever played with, he’s by far the most prepared in terms of how he prepares himself before games mentally and physically,” Orpik said. “He’s definitely a pretty intense guy. On the flip side of this, he’s also really, really nice person, a pretty soft-spoken guy. But when it comes to hockey, not just goalies, he’s one of the most prepared athletes I’ve seen.”
Having spent more than five years out of the NHL, Ted Nolan walked into the Consol Energy Center, the league’s newest arena, for the first time Monday.
“It’s beautiful,” the interim coach said following Buffalo’s morning skate.
Of course, as a Penguins winger for 18 games in 1985-86, Nolan was familiar with Pittsburgh’s old Civic Arena. “The Igloo,” which closed in 2010, is now a parking lot across the street.
Nolan loves historic arenas.
“The old Olympia, I go back that far,” said Nolan, who also played for Detroit. “The Checkerdome in St. Louis. Those are classics. I think that’s what made our game so good is the historical part of it.”
Nolan even has a keepsake from his Penguins days, a poster of the legendary Mario Lemieux.
“I remember a lot,” he said. “I remember sitting down next to Mario. They had a poster night. I asked him to sign it. He asked for who and I said, ‘To me,’ and I still got it at home. It’s ‘To Teddy.’ That’s it. (It’s special) when you have a chance to play with a guy like him and watch him every day in practice.”
Lemieux wasn’t the only superstar Nolan played beside. He was Wayne Gretzky’s junior teammate in Sault Ste. Marie and Steve Yzerman’s teammate in Detroit.
Sabres winger Drew Stafford (upper body) missed Monday’s game after re-injuring what shelved him four games recently. Stafford won’t be sidelined as long as last time, Nolan said. He left Saturday’s 5-2 win in Columbus.
Winger Linus Omark returned after sitting two straight games and four of the last five as a healthy scratch.
With Stafford out, Zemgus Girgensons moved to the right wing beside Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson, a spot the rookie has previously occupied.
Nolan said Monday afternoon he might have Ville Leino, who left Saturday’s game early, replace Stafford.
Why put a player with zero goals on the No. 1 combination?
“Because of his maturity and expectations,” Nolan said. “You expect a little bit more from a guy like him than Linus.”
Instead, Leino skated on the right wing with Cody Hodgson and Steve Ott. Omark played left wing on the fourth line with Zenon Konopka and Matt Ellis.
Tough guy John Scott and defenseman Alexander Sulzer sat as healthy scratches.