During game two, a face familiar to both teams had thrust himself into the national spotlight as Brooks Orpik had laid out young Finnish defenseman Olli Maatta. My first thoughts weren't of anger initially, but immediate concern for Maatta's well-being. Then the play was stopped as the NBC broadcast camera starts to pan in towards rubbery Maatta laying prone on the ice. He was KO'd before he even hit the ice surface. Once the whistle had sounded, I looked and expected the referee to motion towards the guilty forty-four for a long stay in the penalty box. None were forthcoming.
I guess once the initial shock had worn off, disappointment and disbelief arrived to find that a once respected hero athlete who wore the black & gold for many seasons delivered a vicious hit to a former teammate. People still wear Orpik's jersey to games and never quit mentioning the trivial origins of his first name as connections to a legendary Penguins coach. Orpik is remembered fondly in Pittsburgh as a rough and tough player who leveled Red Wings players with heavy bodychecks when appropriate. Now that he wears the enemy's colors, are Penguins fans forced to condemn and make hyperbolic statements about him?
I could wildly speculate a little deeper to what might Orpik had been thinking. He had been playing Maatta closely, but swoops back in toward to set a huge hit well after the puck sailed far away. Did Orpik target Maatta knowing that he was made expendable in the Penguins organization? Was revenge on his mind? Or was there clearly no thought process at all?
Today, Orpik owned up to his actions while making a classy statement:
Orpik accepted responsibility for the head hit he delivered that injured Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta, saying his three-game suspension was “fair” and that he made a “pretty bad mistake.”He then went on in reports to explain that he told the Capitals that the Penguins would buckle under the pressure if they played a strong body checking game. He'd seen it happen before.
But now that I've heard his reactions to the steep 3 playoff game suspension, I've settled with Orpik emotionally. I can't ever condone what he did to the young Penguins player who had already been beset with injuries, but the matter is settled and closure is achieved. I forgive Orpik's reckless play.
It still leaves a few other directions to channel my disgust and anger. The referees who didn't call a penalty on Orpik and towards the Barry Trotz who suggested that the Penguins got preferential favoritism when the suspension was handed out. Trotz must have been channeling his inner- Stan Van Gundy. I recall Van Gundy tried to win "the war" of public opinion in the press by claiming that superstars always get the in-favor bias with the front office and officials.
The sensible thing would be that the inflammatory rhetoric Trotz used in his vague allegations would be laughed off, but in this case, he's looking to further incidents like this one in hopes that pressure might sway things back in their hands.
The referees made a mistake by not awarding this disastrous hit a 5-minute major penalty. At worst it's a match penalty. Did the referees decide or expect the Penguins to retaliate with hits of their own targeting their former player? Would justice be served by allowing Orpik to skate freely with a perennial target on his back? The more I think about the mistake the referees made, the angrier I get at surely having to listen to know-it-all pundits who feast on verbally pummeling the NHL for not taking better care of their players and doling out stricter penalties.
So, the Pens/Caps rivalry has yet another chapter forged between them in history. It's not like the playoffs weren't already raised up. But the rage-filled debate will yet again. For that, I can't tolerate another hit like Orpik's.