Tim Ohashi

Tim Ohashi is the un­like­li­est coach for Cap­i­tals team he grew up sup­port­ing

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - Devils at Cap­i­tals | To­day, 7 p.m., CSN BY DAN STEINBERG

re­al­ized a life­long dream of crunch­ing num­bers for the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals’ coaches.

Tim Ohashi’s first piece of hockey an­a­lyt­ics fo­cused on the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals — and was cre­ated at age 7. “Hockey’s Cap­i­tals Play­ing Play­ers Now,” it was called, and each page was chock full of data, plus pic­tures of smil­ing (if a bit blobby) hockey play­ers play­ing hockey.

“10 is Kelly Miller,” the book ac­cu­rately re­ported. “12 is Peter Bon­dra.” Fine, the in­for­ma­tion con­tained therein may not have been pro­pri­etary, but it was aw­fully cute.

There were surely other sub­ur­ban D.C. kids draw­ing blobby art­work of Kelly Miller in the mid-1990s, other kids mem­o­riz­ing Wash­ing­ton’s ros­ter and wear­ing a Jim Carey jersey dur­ing street hockey games. Few of them, it’s safe to say, grew up to be­come mem­bers of the Cap­i­tals’ coach­ing staff.

“I could have told you prob­a­bly 20 years ago that this was ex­actly where I’d like to be,” Ohashi, 28, said re­cently, sit­ting in the Cap­i­tals’ Ball­ston dress­ing room, wear­ing his team-is­sued coach­ing at­tire. “I never in a mil­lion years would have guessed I’d be here.”

Ohashi’s jour­ney — from ob­sess­ing over sports as a kid in Bethesda to study­ing psy­chol­ogy and math­e­mat­ics at Bates Col­lege to land­ing an in­tern­ship and then a full-time job on Barry Trotz’s coach­ing staff for his fa­vorite hockey team — is in­deed the stuff of teenage dreams. Here was a kid who grew up go­ing to Cap­i­tals games at USAir Arena and who used to watch prac­tices from the bleach­ers in North­ern Vir­ginia un­til a se­ries of un­likely events al­lowed him to study those same prac­tices from the other side of the glass.

“I could have told you prob­a­bly 20 years ago that this was ex­actly where I’d like to be.” Tim Ohashi, Cap­i­tals hockey op­er­a­tions an­a­lyst

“When you’re in col­lege, your ad­viser doesn’t tell you, ‘Hey, this is some­thing you should con­sider,’ ” Ohashi joked.

Fol­low­ing his heart

That’s why, like thou­sands of other sports-crazed kids, Ohashi picked a real ca­reer: He would be a sixth-grade math teacher. He was work­ing to­ward a Master’s in teach­ing at Brown be­fore a se­ri­ous back prob­lem lim­ited his mo­bil­ity and forced him to take med­i­cal leave. Back home in Mont­gomery County, he de­cided that his heart wasn’t fully in teach­ing and that the one con­stant in his life had been a pas­sion for sports.

So he en­rolled in Ge­orge­town’s Sports Industry Man­age­ment pro­gram, hop­ing to find a ca­reer that tapped both his love of sports and his data anal­y­sis skills. Mid­way through his first year in the pro­gram, he sent his ré­sumé and cover let­ter to every per­son in the Cap­i­tals or­ga­ni­za­tion whose name he could dig up, hop­ing to find an in­tern­ship op­por­tu­nity, a foot in the door. He sent ré­sumés to staffers in hockey op­er­a­tions and on the coach­ing staff but also to em­ploy­ees in com­mu­nity re­la­tions, mar­ket­ing and PR.

Around the same time — in the fall of 2014 — video coach Brett Leon­hardt de­cided the team’s new staff re­ally needed an in­tern. Trotz was about to be­gin his first sea­son in Wash­ing­ton, and his larger coach­ing staff had far more in­tense video de­mands than the pre­vi­ous regime. Other parts of the Cap­i­tals or­ga­ni­za­tion had pre­vi­ously hired in­terns from Ge­orge­town, and when Leon­hardt re­al­ized that grad­u­ate stu­dents were al­ready in­ter­view­ing for fall gigs, he went to col­leagues in tick­et­ing, mar­ket­ing and pub­lic re­la­tions to see what sorts of ré­sumés they had re­ceived.

He needed some­one with a knowl­edge of sports an­a­lyt­ics and a fa­mil­iar­ity with the team, some­one the coach­ing staff could trust with every de­ci­sion made in­side their room, some­one who could quickly ex­plain com­plex ideas in sim­ple lan­guage, some­one who could take a new po­si­tion and trans­form it into some­thing in­dis­pens­able. Ohashi was the first per­son he called.

The in­tern­ship was part time (or maybe “part time”), and there were no prom­ises about what would hap­pen next. Ohashi’s hours were split be­tween video work (clip­ping and edit­ing seg­ments for coaches and play­ers from prac­tices and games), gen­er­at­ing re­ports and an­a­lyz­ing data. The new­comer didn’t ex­actly have the hockey back­ground of his col­leagues; he had played spotty min­utes for the club ice hockey team at Bates, scor­ing one ca­reer goal in an 18-2 win. Still, the fit couldn’t have been bet­ter.

“The stuff he was do­ing was un­be­liev­able, stuff I don’t think any of us had ever seen be­fore,” Leon­hardt said.

“Some­times those fresh eyes look at [the game] from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive,” Trotz said. “I think ev­ery­body — all our staff and [Gen­eral Man­ager Brian MacLel­lan] — rec­og­nized that this guy was a very strong in­di­vid­ual when it comes to what we want to do. And you don’t want to let a good per­son go.”

Find­ing his role

Af­ter that in­tern­ship ended, Leon­hardt and Trotz ap­proached MacLel­lan and asked about cre­at­ing a full-time an­a­lyst po­si­tion on the coach­ing staff. When the GM ap­proved, there was no doubt about the first hire.

“It was an easy de­ci­sion,” Trotz said.

“He cre­ated it by the work he put in,” Leon­hardt said of Ohashi. “He’s the smartest pro­ces­sor of in­for­ma­tion I know.”

Now Ohashi’s job ex­panded into some­thing like an NFL qual­ity-con­trol coach. He started at­tend­ing every game, home and away. He de­liv­ers video re­ports to play­ers and helps the staff break down every penalty. He helps Leon­hardt pre-scout op­po­nents, clips video from every prac­tice and an­a­lyzes num­bers in as many ways as he can. He also op­er­ates the team’s video-re­view op­er­a­tion. (Leon­hardt said Ohashi was per­son­ally re­spon­si­ble for call­ing back two off­side goals scored against the Caps in over­time games they even­tu­ally won: last year against Bos­ton and this year against Buf­falo.)

When Trotz in­vited his en­tire coach­ing staff to Las Ve­gas in the spring to share in his coach of the year cer­e­mony, Ohashi was part of the trav­el­ing party.

And he has started pro­vid­ing the dress­ing room with the “Coach Ohashi Stat of the Day” dur­ing pre-scouts, “some­thing that wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily be on the radar that can be used as mo­ti­va­tion or used as in­for­ma­tion,” Trotz said.

Play­ers chirp at him as they would a team­mate; like Trotz, sev­eral im­me­di­ately men­tioned Ohashi’s easy­go­ing per­son­al­ity and the way he has fit into their dress­ing room. But they also speak of him with con­sid­er­able re­spect.

“A ge­nius,” Jay Bea­gle said. “Sta­tis­ti­cally, he’s the best.”

“He’s got to have a pretty big brain in there to do what he’s done,” Karl Alzner said. “Yeah, [Ohashi’s back­ground] is a lit­tle bit odd, but I think that’s the way sports are go­ing. Peo­ple who have re­ally bril­liant minds, who think out­side the box, are find­ing [ca­reers] in sports.”

Ohashi al­ways thought that if he had a chance to break into sports, it would be in base­ball, a sport with a far more ro­bust re­la­tion­ship with an­a­lyt­ics. (If the Cap­i­tals hadn’t re­sponded to his ré­sumé, his next step would have been to sim­i­larly bom­bard the Na­tion­als’ front of­fice.) He fig­ures his fu­ture could be more front of­fice than coach­ing staff, some­thing with de­ci­sion-mak­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, some­thing fur­ther re­moved from ice level.

In the mean­time, he is still play­ing out a D.C. sports fan’s child­hood fantasy. He is the son of two World Bank pro­fes­sion­als, a kid who went to Ge­orge­town Day, who used to cher­ish his old wooden Sher-Wood stick be­cause it was the kind Bon­dra used. “I feel good when I go to a Caps game,” he once wrote, in wob­bly let­ters, dur­ing grade school. Now he is get­ting paid to do it.

“Ev­ery­body around me — my girl­friend, my par­ents, my brother — they al­ways said this is what you’re pas­sion­ate about, [but] I think I was just afraid to try and make the leap be­cause it doesn’t seem like a very at­tain­able job,” he said. “I’m not kid­ding when I say every now and then I have to pinch my­self.”

MATT MCCLAIN/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Tim Ohashi, cen­ter, has be­come an in­valu­able mem­ber of the Cap­i­tals’ coach­ing staff, an­a­lyz­ing data and pro­duc­ing re­ports for the fran­chise he idol­ized as a child.

MATT MCCLAIN/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

COURTESY OF TIM OHASHI

Tim Ohashi’s first re­port about the Cap­i­tals came in grade school. Now he has be­come an im­por­tant mem­ber of the team’s staff.

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