CANONSBURG — Brooks Orpik had a good reason to head back to Pittsburgh after spending the first three months of the NHL lockout in Massachusetts, and the Penguins defenseman insists it had nothing to do with optimism he and the rest of his teammates are closer to getting back to work.
I didn't have snow tires on my car, so I was like, ‘If I wait this out any longer I'm going to get stuck here and not have a car down in Pittsburgh,' Orpik said. It was really just a change of scenery.
Orpik wasn't alone. He carpooled down to Pittsburgh with Tyler Kennedy, and a little bit of peer pressure convinced forward James Neal to join the handful of Penguins who have been working out regularly at the regional ice rink that serves as the team's practice facility.
It's just something different to stimulate you, Orpik said.
Orpik had been working out with players in the Boston area, monitoring negotiations and attempting to stay sharp. Things felt a little different, however, while skating alongside his teammates for the first time since Pittsburgh lost to Philadelphia in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Having Sidney Crosby around may have something to do with it. The captain has been a fixture at the workouts and having 15 players in all — including a couple of non-Penguins — allowed Crosby and company to pick up the pace a little bit.
Crosby has served as the de facto organizer for the drills and is eager to get his career back underway after struggling with concussion-like symptoms for most of the last two years. He attended three days of marathon negotiations between owners and players in New York last week, though he has no plans to be around when talks resume.
While Crosby has long since stopped guessing when the NHL's third labor dispute under Commissioner Gary Bettman's watch will end, he remains hopeful hockey will return at some point.
The fact that they're talking is good and I think we've all said that throughout this process, it's better than sitting around and not knowing what everyone is thinking, Crosby said.