Since head coach Jerry York took over in 1994, Boston College men’s hockey has been defined by a singular word: winning. In that time, the Eagles have earned a sensational total of four National Championships and nine Hockey East Tournament titles.
Prior to the 2020–21 season, York added another proven winner to his coaching staff: former Eagle Brooks Orpik. Orpik was a key stalwart on the BC blueline for three seasons from 1998 to 2001. He played a major role in BC’s 2001 NCAA Tournament victory, the Eagles’ first national title in over 50 years that kicked off the team’s 21st century dynasty.
“[Orpik was a] really hard-nosed, physical, strong, and a tremendous skater,” York said. “Really good on his edges with outstanding balance.”
Orpik left the Eagles after delivering a national title to Chestnut Hill, and he went on to have an NHL career for the ages. After being drafted in the first round of the 2000 NHL Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Orpik finally made his NHL debut in the 2002–03 season. As a professional player, Orpik continued to put his defining characteristics on display: leadership, physical strength, and skating ability.
He played a crucial part in the Penguins’ Stanley Cup victory in 2009 and the Capitals’ first Stanley Cup win in 2018. Though he remained an imposing presence on the ice for nearly two decades, Orpik excelled even more off the ice. He spent many of his NHL seasons as an assistant captain and was nominated for the King Clancy Memorial Award, which recognizes leadership and community outreach.
Even though he may not have known it as a player, coaching hockey was destined to be a part of his future.
Orpik ended his illustrious NHL career by retiring at the conclusion of the 2018–19 season. At the time, he wasn’t entirely sure what post-NHL life held for him. Orpik was not quite sure if coaching was for him, but many of his closest friends and family encouraged him to try his hand at it. After some convincing, he took a part-time job with the Capitals’ player development team about a year after his retirement.
“It was the perfect amount of work,” Orpik said. “It kept you in the game. Sometimes you just listen to the people around you that sometimes know you better than yourself. It’s been fun.”
With about a dozen credits remaining to earn his college degree—Orpik departed for the NHL after his junior year—his former college coach soon approached him to join his bench. It was a match made in heaven, according to York.
“We knew he was still four courses short of his degree, so we said come on back, and take your degree and work with our team,” York said. “He wanted to get his degree, and he likes to coach hockey.”
When asked about his coaching style, Orpik stressed being reserved and how his job with BC has been a learning experience for him.
“I try to interject when I can and try to be in sync with [the other coaches],” Orpik said. “I’ll try to give little pointers here and there that can help out the guys. I’m kind of just a guy that they can go to if they need extra assistance or have questions. They like asking me questions about guys I’ve played with and different experiences.”
Even in his first season in a new role for the Eagles, Orpik doesn’t come without experience. Though he may act reserved in practice, York said he knows how valuable Orpik’s experience has been to the squad. Defenseman Drew Helleson, fresh off a standout sophomore season, attributed a lot of his success to Orpik.
“When you have a guy like that who had such a successful career in the NHL and played under Coach York, I think it’s obviously something you can take advantage of,” Helleson said. “Whenever he’s talking, you’ve got to have your ears open because he’s been there and done that. He has accomplished everything you can as an NHL player.”
York added that Orpik has been an extremely player-friendly coach. Helleson said that he and his teammates have enjoyed all of the tales Orpik has told them from his playing days.
“[He would tell us] funny stories in the locker room about guys that we looked up to growing up like [Alex] Ovechkin, [Nicklas] Backstrom, and [Sidney] Crosby that he played with,” Helleson said.
There will be a lot of new faces on this year’s BC team. The Eagles lost the majority of their core with Alex Newhook, Matt Boldy, Mike Hardman, Spencer Knight, and Logan Hutsko departing for the NHL.
But as a two-time Stanley Cup champion, Orpik knows very well how top teams will often lose key members of their core and have to find a way to come back. Despite losing a significant number of players from last year’s NCAA Tournament-level team, Orpik said that he is not worried about this year’s roster.
He said that he believes the culture set in place here will keep the Eagles playing at the same high level that fans are accustomed to seeing. Even though they did not achieve their ultimate goal of bringing home a sixth National Championship, the Eagles finished atop Hockey East and were just a win away from a Frozen Four appearance.
“They’ve got a great group of seniors here this year and some good fifth-year grads coming over,” Orpik said. “It is a little bit different in terms of the pieces, but I think the culture and having that good standard in place is what keeps that going.”
Not only will this season mark the 100th season for BC, but it will also be the first “normal” season of Orpik’s NCAA coaching career after a COVID-19-impacted opening campaign. As a 20-year veteran, he knows the effect that fans can have on gameplay, and Orpik said he’s looking forward to welcoming crowds back to Conte Forum with open arms.
“Just as an athlete, there are plenty of times where the schedule is really demanding, so you need some external motivation to fuel you, and that is where the crowd comes in, whether it be home or away,” Orpik said. “Even when you get booed, it gets you going. Everyone’s excited to have that atmosphere back.”
Now retired from playing professional hockey, with his wife and two young daughters at his side, Orpik has found his path forward by returning to what he knows best. Over 20 years after his BC debut, Orpik’s life has come full circle.
Featured Image Courtesy of BC Athletics