- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 25, 2019

ARLINGTON — Defenseman Brooks Orpik, the Washington Capitals’ “Batya” and veteran presence that helped guide them to their first Stanley Cup, announced his retirement from the NHL on Tuesday.

The 38-year-old played 1,171 regular and postseason games over 15 seasons in the league and won two Stanley Cups, one with Washington and one with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Orpik didn’t divulge his plans to retire when the Capitals’ season ended in April, but he said Tuesday he had his mind made up by then.

“I knew a long time ago, to be honest with you, for a couple different reasons,” Orpik told reporters. “I think probably from the time I had surgery (and) on, it was pretty evident that I wasn’t going to play another year after this. Nothing’s really changed the last few weeks. It was just finding a time that was appropriate to announce it.”

Orpik signed with the Capitals in 2014 and served as one of their alternate captains for all five of his seasons with the team. Though American by birth, Orpik affectionately became known to his Russian teammates as “Batya,” an informal Russian word for “father.”

“Batya was a great leader in our locker room and was so important for us to win our first Stanley Cup,” Alex Ovechkin said via a statement. “We will miss his presence in the room and on the ice. Not only was he a great leader and a player, but he was a better person. I’m so happy I had a chance to play with him and for our young guys to have had the chance to learn from him.”

Orpik only played 53 games in his final season as he missed time with a knee injury. That coupled with the wear and tear of a long hockey career took its toll on Orpik.

“I’d take the elevator at (Capital One Arena) to go up and down because I couldn’t go up and down the stairs,” Orpik said. “When I couldn’t do that, it was probably time to stop playing hockey, I figured. It was at a point where, I could just get it to a point where I could play for 2½ hours and then pay for it afterwards and then try to do it all over again.”

Part of a dying breed of defensive defensemen, Orpik scored just 18 regular season goals in his 15-year career. He was known better for his bruising style of play and his leadership on the ice and in the locker room, often teaching younger players how to eat and live healthier.

Orpik’s final NHL goal was the overtime winner in Game 2 of the Capitals’ first-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes in April. That came one postseason after scoring a goal in the Stanley Cup Final, Game 2 against Vegas, which turned out to be the game-winner and which broke a personal 220-game goalless streak.

Now, Orpik plans to spend more time with his family and look to finish his degree from Boston College. He said he does not have an interest in coaching “right now” due to the schedule demands that would entail.

One of just a few players to play alongside both Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby in his career, Orpik has seen the Capitals-Penguins rivalry blossom into one of the marquee rivalries in the NHL.

“I think it’s a lot more real now because we’re in the same division and played against each other in the playoffs three or four years in a row,” he said. “Before that, I thought it was a little fabricated just because it was Ovi and Sid and we were in different divisions and we hadn’t played each other in the playoffs in a long time.”

Ovechkin was not the only teammate to give statements to the NHLPA praising Orpik. “I don’t think he ever took a shift off his entire career, nor did he ever take a day off being a great leader,” Tom Wilson said.

Todd Reirden told reporters he’s been fortunate to coach Orpik for 10 years across both Pittsburgh and Washington.

“He is one-of-a-kind as a player in terms of how he played the game in this generation that’s gone away from the physical, penalty-killing, stay-at-home type of defenseman,” Reirden said, “and then one-of-a-kind as a human being in terms of what he stands for as a human, as a dad, as a husband, as a teammate. I can’t say enough about those type of things.”

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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