November 6, 2009

400 and counting for Sommer

by Dan Hickling

He seemed a little chagrined by all the fuss – clearly favoring the notion that his job is to develop players for the San Jose Sharks over the winning of games.

The truth is, Roy Sommer has done plenty of both in his 12 years as an AHL bench boss.

On Sunday, his Worcester Sharks presented him with a 4-1 win over the Springfield Falcons, making him just the fourth AHL head coach to reach the 400-career win mark.

It turns out that the momentous win crept up on the 52-year-old native of Oakland, Calif.

“To be honest,” said Sommer, “I hadn't even thought about it. One of the players mentioned it to me the other day. I said, 'What?' I didn't even know what he was talking about. I guess it shows you how long I've been in the league.”

For the record, Sommer recorded his first AHL win back on Oct. 17, 1998. That was back when San Jose sent it's teal-clad youngsters to the Blue Grass State to play for the Kentucky Thoroughblades.

The Blades are no more, nor are the Cleveland Barons, who took over as San Jose's top farm club.
Four years ago, the Sharks set up shop in Worcester, bringing Sommer and his top lieutenant, David Cunniff, with him. Along the way, the two have sent more than 70 players to San Jose (not counting Claude Lemiuex, that is).

Given the casualty rate found in the coaching profession -- just this week, the Chicago Wolves pulled the plug on their coaches, Don Granato and Jason Christie -- Sommer stands out as a rarity. The same goes for Cunniff, who has assisted Sommer for eight seasons.

“I just feel fortunate,” said Sommer. “It's been a lot of loyalty on their part, and it's been loyalty on my part. I guess there's been a few times when I could have gone to other places, and have decided to stay. And visa versa. I had bad years and they hung onto me. It's been a good marriage. They're a great organization to work for.”

No small part of that greatness can be laid at Sommer's feet, whose fingerprints can be found on nearly half the current San Jose roster.

And that's far more satisfying to Sommer than being singled out for a personal milestone.

“We've done a good job, here,” Sommer said. “San Jose has more (system-developed) players playing in the NHL than any (other) team. When you turn the TV on and see (Brad) Staubitz score, (Jamie) McGinn gets a goal, and see the guys who go up contribute … when they factor in the wins San Jose has had, that's a big thing. The only thing we're missing now is the Stanley Cup.”

It's a sure bet that Sommer would trade all those AHL wins for one of those.

Around the AHL

For the record, the other three members of the “400 Win Club” are Fred “Bun” Cook (636 wins), Frank Mathers (610) and John Paddock (585). ... Cunniff, by the way, was a player for the Albany River Rats team that lost to the Thoroughblades, providing Sommer with his first win. ... Perhaps it’s just a fluke, but as this week dawned, the top five scorers (and seven of the top 10) in the AHL are found in the Atlantic Division. The list is headed by Hartford Wolf Pack teammates Corey Locke (8-9-17) and P.A. Parenteau (8-8-16). The league's top goal-getter to date is Springfield's Chris Minard, who has nine.

Dan Hickling can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.