The San Jose Barracuda defeated the Ontario Reign 4-2 on Wednesday at the SAP Center to give Roy Sommer his AHL record-breaking 637th victory as a coach. Here’s what I wrote about him when the Reign denied Sommer his tying win by ralling for a 3-2 overtime victory Jan. 22 in Ontario:
ONTARIO — Roy Sommer didn’t know what the fuss all about was Friday night at the Citizens Business Bank Arena. He was only doing his job, coaching the San Jose Barracuda during their American Hockey League game against the Ontario Reign.
He said he was honored to be in his position, standing behind the bench of the San Jose Sharks’ top minor-league team for the 18th season, one victory away from tying Fred “Bun” Cook’s 60-year-old AHL record of 636 coaching victories.
“I’d just like to get it over with,” Sommer said. “I personally don’t see the big deal about it. When you sit down and think about it, all of a sudden it’s caught up to me. It was 400 games, then 500, then 600, then it’s the record is right around the corner and now it’s here. One minute you’re a young kid and then all of a sudden, you’re sitting in the boat and you’re real old.”
Sommer laughed as he talked with a couple of reporters before the game. Hours later, the Barracuda dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to the Reign, denying Sommer his record-tying victory. He can tie the mark in the rematch between the teams tonight at the SAP Center in San Jose.
“I think it’s going to be a record that’s hard to break,” Sommer said. “I’ve had the opportunity to coach in the American League for 18 years. Most coaches just want to get the hell out of here, get to the NHL or go to juniors or go to Europe or something, but it’s been a great run.”
Sommer’s son, Marley, was with him Friday. His wife, Melissa, is a teacher and was at home in San Jose. Another son, Castan, plays on the hockey team at Holy Cross. Their daughter, Kira, is a journalism student at George Washington University.
Sommer’s life has been a nomadic one that’s traversed the four corners of North America, finally settling back home in the Bay Area. The 58-year-old was born in Oakland, left home to attend a hockey camp in Nelson, British Columbia, and earned a spot on a junior-level team in Edmonton.
He returned to Edmonton to play three games with the NHL’s Oilers, scoring one goal and drawing a fighting major in his debut with the Wayne Gretzky-led team. The rest of his playing career was spent in the minor leagues, including the AHL, however.
After stints as a coach in the junior-level Western Hockey League and the ECHL, Sommer coached the San Jose Rhinos of Roller Hockey International. One season later, then-Sharks general manager Dean Lombardi hired him as an assistant coach under Darryl Sutter.
Sommer and Sutter bonded instantly.
Marley, known as Mo, and Sutter’s son, Chris, have Down Syndrome.
“There was a connection also because of our boys,” Sutter said. “I think when we first met in San Jose, Roy helped us a lot. They already had all the connections. Chris was probably 4 or 5, but we could get him right into the programs.”
After two seasons with the Sharks, Sommer jumped at the chance to coach their minor-league club in 1998-99. He’s never left, even as the team moved from Lexington, Ky., to Cleveland, to Worcester, Mass., and then San Jose in the AHL’s California migration this season.
“Maybe they think I’m a development coach,” he said. “I’ve had a couple of opportunities to be an NHL assistant. It just didn’t work out and I ended up staying. I’m glad I did. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. They’ve hung with me for a long time, too.”