Two hours before game time Washington Capitals Coach Ron Wilson and his two assistants sit in an office at MCI Center hunched over laptop computers exchanging information and preparing a game plan. Beyond the occasional wisecrack, little is said. Their fingers do all the talking.
It seems only natural that the Capitals' coaching staff is among the most computer-savvy in hockey, since the team is owned by America Online executive Ted Leonsis. While Wilson's compilation of hockey data into his computer predated Leonsis's acquisition of the team, the new owner is bringing the Capitals players into the cyber age as well.
Yesterday, the players were furnished with loaded laptops and AOL accounts with the hope that they would use them to interact with fans on the team's new Web site. Leonsis is bringing in AOL employees to instruct the team on how to use the computers, but Wilson probably could give lessons himself.
Wilson has digitized almost every nuance of hockey, spending the last 10 years creating his own set of programs, loading a wealth of information, video, sound clips and teaching tools into his computer. Everything from the precise breakdown of each practice, to travel schedules, to information on every player and referee in the league is in there, a mere mouse click away.
"It's become a great tool for us to prepare the team," assistant coach Tim Army said. "We've got everything in there--scouting reports on opponents, video clips, analyzed game stats. We're networked in and we all share information.
"The real genius is in the development and programming, and that's all Ron. He has a real brilliance with computers. I never realized how much of a tool they could become."
Wilson has scouting reports and ratings on more than 1,000 players and files with strategic tendencies and reports on all NHL teams at his disposal. In seconds he can access which penalties certain referees call most against the Capitals and their opponents. He has detailed faceoff information and charts of how each goalie in the league is most likely to give up goals. He has diagrams of strategies drawn for different games and specific information on how each Capitals player performed in every game. All of this is easily printed in a pamphlet and is in the coaching staff's hands behind the bench.
Wilson also has video clips of forechecking, breakouts, neutral-zone play, almost everything other teams do. Before games the coach projects game clips from his computer on to a wall in the dressing room, along with pregame plans and notes. Wilson digitizes the video and loads it into his computer.
"I've put a lot of time into it over the last 10 years," Wilson said. "We've got it down now to where we've got most of the stuff programmed in 20 minutes after a game. It's become a hobby for me. In the summer it's golf in the morning, computer in the afternoon, golf in the evening."
Wilson's interest in computers is longstanding. His grandfather worked for Canadian Pacific railroad and always stressed the importance of typing and technology. Wilson learned to type at age 10 and tinkered around with early computers such as the Commodore 64. While playing in Europe he obtained one of the first Toshiba laptops and began designing a statistics program without ever taking a computing class.
"I always knew computers would be big and I'd have a niche for myself," Wilson said. "I just started buying a bigger and better computer every year after that. I'm one of those guys that has to have the newest thing, whatever the latest top-of-the-line technology is. I started developing my own programs and using it more and more. It saves me all kinds of time."
In a few weeks the Capitals will bring in a full-time employee to handle videotape editing for home and away games. This week the team is meeting with computer firms to discuss purchasing more editing equipment that can be taken on the road and used on the team plane. They would like to purchase a computer that would sit behind the bench during games, allowing clips to be shown to players instantaneously.
The team also is designing an intranet site loaded with Wilson's game plans and video, which would be accessible only to Washington's players and coaches. The players could access the information via their new laptops.
Many Capitals players already are computer literate. Winger Yogi Svejkovsky dabbles with an architecture design program, and sometimes reads newspapers from his native Czech Republic on the Internet. Sergei Gonchar was spending so much time playing computer games he recently decided to sell his personal computer. Peter Bondra plans to use his computer to keep in touch with people back in his native Slovakia and chat with fans on the team's new Web site.
That's exactly what the team owner wants to hear.
"Instead of maybe watching TV on the road, hopefully the guys will get going on our Web site and go into fan pages and answer questions," Leonsis said. "I can envision them one day all going on to the team plane with their laptops."