A winning team has to have its outstanding stars.
But it also needs players who may not be as well known as the stars, but who are good players in their own right and who can contribute consistently. These blue collar players don't always grab the headlines, but they work quietly and do the things that lead to wins--but go largely unnoticed.
Harvard men's hockey center Rob Ohno is this kind of blue-collar player.
Heavily recruited out of high school, the Bloomington, Minn. native has always played sports with a work ethic largely instilled by his parents.
"My parents told me to always do the best that I can do," Ohno said. "It was never `be the best' but `do the the best.'''
It was this kind of effort which led to Ohno's great prowess as a high school athlete. He lettered three consecutive years in baseball, soccer and hockey. His high school hockey team qualified for the state tournament each of his three years and won the tournament his junior year--no mean feat in a hockey-crazed state.
"It [the high school tournament] is what all the young boys dream about, growing up," said Ohno. "We were in heaven the next three months [after winning the tournament]".
His high school success lead to heavy recruiting by such hockey powers as Michigan, Minnesota, Providence and Michigan State.
However, a visit out East and the education available in Cambridge sold him on Harvard.
"I enjoyed my recruiting trip immensely," Ohno said. "Not everyone gets a chance to go to Harvard."
Since then, Ohno has been known for the same work ethic he showed in high school.
"He's what we like to call an honest hockey player," said Harvard assistant Coach Ronn Tomassoni. "He does the little things you don't notice."
In fact, Ohno has made his college career out of doing the things that help the team but often go unseen by the fans.
"I'm not a scorer," admits Ohno, who's nonetheless tallied seven goals and 10 assists this year. "We [the three forwards on Ohno's line] are expected to contribute in scoring, but we have to play solid defensive hockey first."
Ohno willingly sacrifices his personal scoring for the sake of the team. He backchecks and forechecks, taking opposing players out of the flow of their offenses. He'll fall to the ice late in a game to block an opponent's slapshot.
"He's not at all self-oriented," Steve Armstrong, a wing on the Ohno-centered third line, said. "He doesn't worry at all about personal stats. He makes it fun."
Ohno is a team player off the ice as well. The Eliot House senior gives special credit to his roommates, who include a varsity and a JV baseball player, for adding to his hockey experiences.
"My roommates have been real supportive by going to the games and taking an interest in what I'm doing," Ohno said.
While his roommates have been supportive, opposing fans have predictably singled Ohno out as a special target. Ohno's name, stitched conspicuously across the back of his Crimson jersey, makes him the easiest target among Harvard players for crowd heckling.
"He has a great last name for opposing rinks," laughed linemate Pete Follows.
Ohno seems to appreciate the added attention his name attracts and gives special praise to the most vocal crowd of all, the mob at Cornell's Lynah Rink.
"It's unbelievable to go in there with the fish, tennis balls, and super-balls," Ohno said. "The place smells like a seafood market. It's something you can't describe unless you've been there. They're great fans. It's unique."
Besides the physical toughness which allows him to sacrifice his body in checking and disrupting opposing teams, Ohno has another equally important dimension: his skating ability.
It's this ability which allows him to excel at his most important contribution to the Crimson--penalty killing.
In these key situations, Ohno and Armstrong--his penalty killing partner--play shorthanded against units assembled specifically for their goal-scoring ability. His speed helps compensate for the lost Harvard player by allowing him to cover more than one man.
Ohno's penalty-killing status is a sign of the respect the coaches and players have for him. It's a mark of consistency and maturity when a player is used in these key situations.
"Specialty teams are what win games for you," Tomassoni said.
"He's the kind of player every team loves to have," said Follows. "He's very consistent, sturdy, reliable. You know how he'll play, day in, and day out."
Head Coach Bill Cleary is more emphatic.
"Rob Ohno is the most consistent player I've ever coached at Harvard College," Cleary said.
And this steadiness makes Ohno a natural team leader.
"He's a quiet team leader," said Armstrong. "He leads by example."
"He's very well respected among his peer group," agreed Follows.
Ohno's leadership extends beyond hockey. He was elected as fourth Class Marshall this past fall and is also an officer in the Varsity Club.
So when you're watching Harvard this weekend, keep an eye out for Rob Ohno, a working man's kind of hockey player who leads by example.