When a "really young" Tim Ohashi first watched hockey on TV, he admits to confronting a steep learning curve.
"I didn't understand what I was watching," said Ohashi, Kraken head video analyst, "But I knew it was exciting and impressive."
Ohashi benefitted from his mother's mentoring. She grew up in Pittsburgh, watching the NHL Penguins among a passel of Irish-American relatives "who were hockey fanatics."
Soon enough, Ohashi was hurrying home from school to pull out his hockey stick and hockey net to shoot pucks. He convinced his older brother to join him at times, agreeing to be the goalie.
"I had to eat some pucks," says Ohashi, light-hearted and, ahem, reflecting what likely thousands of we younger brothers did with older siblings during shooting drills.
Growing up in Bethesda, MD, Ohashi joined a roller hockey league, his best option to play the sport with ice rinks "few and far between." He practiced his balance and agility on newly purchased Rollerblades as much as he could.
Ohashi recalls "not a lot of kids in my neighborhood were interested in hockey," likely different now with the stardom of the Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin and a 2018 Stanley Cup title.
When the Kraken video analyst joined his roller hockey squad, he noticed "there weren't a lot of Asian faces on my team or in the league." He was not deterred.
Instead, Ohashi was inspired by a pair of Asian Americans, Paul Kariya and Stan Wong, making their mark in the NHL. Consider it his own version of Asian hockey heritage to pair with the personal history and journey of his loving Japan-born father, who moved to the U.S. in his twenties. Ohashi's story is a stellar one to share as part of the Kraken's content coverage during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
"Paul Kariya was of Japanese heritage like myself," says Ohashi. "He was a special player on the ice-electric to watch. The idea of someone who looked like me [and served as a team captain for seven of his 15 NHL Hall of Fame seasons] made me feel like I could belong."
Wong is currently head athletic trainer for the Team USA men's hockey national team, his fourteenth consecutive year in the role, including the last four American Olympic teams. Before that, Wong worked as head athletic trainer for the Capitals (1986-89) and Florida Panthers (1999-2002). He worked two NHL All-Star games in 1991 and 1999.
Ohashi's attention to detail, invaluable in his role creating and analyzing video for coaches and players, was clearly on display as a young viewer spotting Wong.
"I've never met him, but Stan Wong is a long-time fixture behind the bench," says Ohashi. "I didn't recognize his role [with the NHL teams], but I did notice he looked like me too. Without representation, it is hard to envision yourself succeeding in the sport of hockey or any sport or industry. The idea is not reinforced."
As first reported in an excellent "Color of Hockey" column by NHL.com's William Douglas, Ohashi is "among a small but growing number of video analysts and coaches of color who've joined NHL teams in recent years."
More details from Douglas: "Toronto hired Sam Kim as video and coaching coordinator in September 2020 after he served as video coordinator for Bakersfield of the American Hockey League for two seasons and video coach for South Korea's men's team at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
"Samson Lee, who is Taiwanese-Canadian, joined the Los Angeles Kings as video coach in 2015 after holding the same job with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the AHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"Tommy Cruz, a former junior hockey goalie who is Cuban-American, has been the video coordinator for the Vegas Golden Knights since 2017 after three years in the same job with the Florida Panthers.
"Nigel Kirwan has been the video coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning since 1996 and became the first Black coach on a Stanley Cup team when the Lightning won Cups in 2004 and again last season."
Ohashi's transition to playing hockey on ice skates was cinched by annual winter holiday visits to relatives who had relocated to Minnesota.
"They had a frozen pond behind their house," says Ohashi, who joined his cousins in the skating each December. "It was a quick and easy way to fall in love with playing hockey on ice, especially outdoors."
Ohashi played for the club hockey team at Bates College in Maine (and also volunteered as unofficial assistant coach/team manager). He earned a graduate degree at Brown University with plans to become a middle-school teacher. But a 2013 back injury limited him to home rest for several months.
During that time, Ohashi soul-searched his life and career aspirations. The results always started with sports and especially hockey. With encouragement from his mom, Ohashi enrolled in sports management courses at Georgetown to offset boredom and maybe, why not, dream a hockey dream.
The Georgetown program included an internship requirement. Ohashi decided to send cover letters and resumes to a number of Washington Capitals executives ("I peppered my resume throughout the organization").
Then right-time, right-place kicked into gear. Caps video coach Brett Leonhardt was looking for help as part of a reworking of the staff when Barry Trotz joined as head coach. Ohashi impressed Trotz, who craved as much video as possible to inform strategy, leading to hiring Ohashi as full-time video analyst in 2015-16.
Ohashi's hockey dreams turned technicolor in 2018 when Washington won the Cup. Joining the Kraken is another impressive and exciting step. His years in D.C. proved rewarding but the concept of building an NHL franchise from foundation up was too attractive to pass up.
Now he is the one receiving cover letters and resumes, including many young people of color inspired by Ohashi's storyline, which no doubt is trending way up on the aforementioned hockey learning chart.
"People reach out to say they read about me and share that we have similar heritages and backgrounds," says Ohashi. "I definitely would have never guessed my career to play out this way. It's humbling."