Little did Roy Sommer know that when he was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1977, he’d be setting a coaching record 39 years later
Sommer played ten seasons of professional hockey, winning a Calder Cup championship with the AHL’s Maine Mariners in 1984.
Retiring as a member of the Muskegon Lumberjacks (IHL), Sommer would take on his first coaching role the following season as an assistant with the same team. He would move to junior hockey the next season, taking on an identical role with the Prince Albert Raiders.
It was then back into professional hockey and as a head coach in the ECHL.
Firstly with Roanoke Valley Rebels and then Richmond Renegades, winning a Championship with the latter during the 1994-95 season. A little known fact is that in-between times, Sommer also coached an inline hockey team called the San Jose Rhinos.
The San Jose organisation came calling in 1996 and the Californian native held the position of assistant coach for the Sharks for two seasons.
May 28, 1998 was the day that would set a chain of events in motion that resulted in Sommer’s historic achievement.
Appointed head coach of San Jose’s farm team, then the Kentucky Thoroughblades, Sommer has remained the coach of the Shark’s American Hockey league affiliate to this day.
All despite having to up sticks three times, including the latest change this past summer.
Three years in Kentucky, five years in Cleveland with the Barons before nine seasons as head coach of the Worcester Sharks.
With the realignment of the AHL in the past year, the Sharks affiliate has now come home, playing games at the SAP Centre as the San Jose Barracuda.
Perhaps it’s fitting that he should break the record back in the city of the team that first hired him.
During his time, Roy has led San Jose’s AHL affiliates to six 40-win seasons and three division championships. He’s also coached the most games in the AHL, breaking Frank Mathers record back in the 2013/14 season. His first win as an AHL head coach came on October 17, 1998, leading the Kentucky Thoroughblades to a 6-4 victory over the Albany River Rats,
It’s been a long road to chasing down the winning record of the legendary Fred “Bun” Cook.
Cook won four Calder Cup during his coaching career, making the final on another four occasions.
He would win 636 games in six seasons with the Providence Red and the remainder of his 19 years with the Cleveland Barons. Only once one did an AHL team coached by Fred Cook miss the playoffs.
Cook sadly passed away in 1988 at the age of 83.
He was posthumously inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995 and to the American Hockey League Hall of Fame in 2007.
Roy Sommer would close to within one victory of Cook’s record on January 15, 2016 with a win on the road in Rockford.
Six defeats would follow, four by a solitary goal, as San Jose struggled to garner much offense during that period.
He would finally tie the record on January 30, with his team making a stunning comeback. Trailing 2-0, the Barracuda scored four straight, including three power play goals in a 4-3 victory.
Two narrow defeats against the Ontario Reign would mean Sommer waiting until facing the Western Conference leaders for the third straight occasion but this time on home ice.
Jumping out to an early lead, San Jose lead 3-1 after twenty minutes and thanks to a 50 save performance from Aaron Dell, the Barracuda held on for a 4-2 victory, the 637th of Roy Sommer’s coaching career.
It may have taken Roy Sommer more games than Fred Cook to reach this number of victories but his longevity should not be underrated. The bus rides and long road trips certainly wear after a while and developing talent for the NHL in the process is no mean feat. Something Sommer has continually achieved during his career and why the San Jose organisation retain him as their American Hockey league coach.
The only active coach close to Sommer’s win total is Chicago Wolves current incumbent, John Anderson, but he’s well over 220 victories behind.
With that in mind we may never see anyone come close to Roy Sommer’s record and he’s not finished quite yet.