Kraken head video analyst Tim Ohashi won’t soon forget the first time his replay-perusing acumen helped directly swing an NHL game.
Before joining the Kraken last October, he’d been a Washington Capitals video coach for five seasons with, among other things, a nerve-wracking responsibility to tell the head coach whether to challenge on-ice calls. The Caps went 2-for-10 when such coach’s challenges — for offsides and goaltender interference — were first allowed in 2015-16, ranking 21st of 30 teams. So, Ohashi and fellow Caps video coach Brett Leonhardt weren’t exactly brimming with confidence the ensuing season when head coach Barry Trotz summoned their help during a December 2016 game against the Buffalo Sabres.
“It’s definitely right up there with the most stressful components of the job,’’ said Ohashi, 32, a D.C.-area native who’d handled some video work interning with his boyhood favorite Caps for a season before it became his full-time role. “The 30 seconds you have to decide (whether to challenge) feel like they go by in three seconds. And then, the two or three minutes it takes for them to actually make a decision once the challenge goes to review feels like the longest two or three minutes of your life.’’
That particular game saw Ohashi and Leonhardt make the right call: A Sabres winger had crossed the blue line inches ahead of a dumped-in puck. Buffalo wound up scoring when the play wasn’t ruled offside, so they had Trotz challenge and the goal was overturned.
“We ended up winning by one goal,’’ Ohashi said. “So, that felt like a pretty big change in fortune in a one-goal game — you definitely feel good about that.”
Two months later, the pair alerted Trotz to goaltender interference he hadn’t even noticed — nullifying a Philadelphia goal 23 seconds into a 4-1 win by Washington. “We have the two best video guys in the league and they play a big part in a lot of our wins,” Caps goalie Braden Holtby told reporters afterward.
The following week, they wiped out a New York Rangers go-ahead goal on an offside call in another 4-1 win for the Caps — the 700th of Trotz’s career.
That stretch was as high-profile as it gets in the unheralded video analyst world; a rare opportunity to directly alter games and register — however fleetingly — in fans’ consciousness. By that season’s end, the Caps doubled their successful challenge rate to 40% for the league’s 10th best mark. And by 2017-18, when capturing a Stanley Cup, they got 50% right.
Ohashi chuckled describing those angst-filled moments and their outsized importance to his typical work day. The job is already challenging enough — requiring quick keyboard fingers and a solid situational grasp of hockey — without having to drop everything and sweat out a ruling by off-site replay officials.
He’ll spend games in a video room adjacent the team’s locker area, watching three television screens and their footage from network broadcast cameras. A computer monitor offers four additional angles from each of two overhead cameras at opposite rink ends.
Ohashi edits small clips of on-ice happenings for coaches to study between periods. He’ll use customizable Hudl Sportscode software to differentiate and time-mark each happening during the live feed to quickly identify, edit and file the clips accordingly.
“So, in any given game I can create over 1,000 marks of every situation that happens on the ice — every faceoff, every forecheck, every breakout, every zone entry,” he said. “It’s a combination of individual stuff as well as team and systematic stuff.”
Between periods, assistant coaches will seek video pertaining to their responsibilities. An assistant wondering why his powerplay unit wasn’t winning faceoffs can scan video of those taken with the man advantage and pinpoint shortcomings. Or, study footage of offensive breakouts to determine why his players weren’t quickly gaining the zone.
Head coaches typically review scoring chances — particularly those against them, trying to spot whether they resulted from defensive breakdowns and individual or team-wide lapses.
“Intermissions are quick,” Ohashi said. “You have maybe eight minutes to figure out what you see, what adjustments you want to make and then the head coach has to go in and address the team.”
An earpiece keeps Ohashi connected with the bench, making it easier to know what video to pre-cut before intermission. Or, if there’s a TV timeout with his team facing a big penalty kill against Boston, Ohashi can scan video of all faceoffs taken by Bruins specialist Patrice Bergeron and relay information on who best to deploy against him when play resumes.
Pregame hours are spent preparing advance clips of upcoming opponents, breaking them into similar player and situational files.
Though Ohashi never played at a high level, he was a huge fan and avid street hockey participant.
He also played club hockey at a small college in Maine, then attended graduate school at Brown University in Rhode Island where he met his fiancee, Nicole Kahn, who happens to hail from Bellevue. Ohashi planned to be a middle-school teacher until a serious back condition forced him back to his parents’ place in Bethesda, Maryland to await and recover from surgery.
To quell his restlessness, his parents and Kahn suggested he take sports management graduate courses at Georgetown University. Ohashi so enjoyed those he earned a Master’s degree and the Capitals internship.
Four years later, he was being fitted for a Cup ring.
“I’d grown up watching that team and it was the first Stanley Cup in Washington history,” he said. “So it was definitely a highlight.”
Now, he’ll help a new team in his fiancee’s home town try to win a Cup. They moved into her parents’ Bellevue basement just before New Year’s while continuing to seek their own place.
The Kraken have yet to hire a second video analyst, though teams are increasingly using pairs. Ohashi will work all Kraken games and estimates his video compilations of other teams means he’ll see parts of “hundreds if not a thousand games per year.”
It isn’t clear whether he’ll keep assisting on video challenges, since some head coaches prefer handling it themselves. With the July expansion draft upcoming, Ohashi currently helps the Kraken’s analytics department double-check stat-based conclusions about players against actual video evidence.
“When we think about players, we’re thinking on the macro level,” said Alexandra Mandrycky, the Kraken’s director of hockey strategy and research. “What Tim brings to the table is, he’s really fluent in the X’s and O’s of hockey. He can go to the film and say ‘Maybe we’re seeing things one way when we should be seeing them a different way.’
“We know numbers really well, but he knows hockey so it’s a good pairing. He’ll be working with the coaches once games start but I’m hopeful he can advocate for our department.”
Ohashi is also creating video files of players and game-events from this season the future coaching staff can reference. And, of course, staying on top of how coach’s challenges are going.
Last season, the league began allowing challenges for missed stoppages of play in the offensive zone that led to goals. And instead of losing a timeout for a failed challenge, teams are now assessed a two-minute penalty — a move that severely reduced challenges attempted.
The Caps only tried three last season, getting one wrong.
“We had to kill a penalty and they had the puck in our zone for the full two minutes,” Ohashi said. “I don’t think I breathed once. Fortunately, they didn’t score.”
He’s breathing again now, in a new town with a new team. And for at least another half-year or so, with the job anonymity he’s grown to love.