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2016-2017 Season




ROY SOMMER: WORKS HIS WAY INTO AHL HISTORY
Top Shelf Talks With the San Jose Barracuda Coach


By Paul Freeman

Coach Sommer

Coaching pro sports is supposed to be the most insecure job on the planet. Coaches are hired to be fired, they say. Roy Sommer is the exception. For 19 years, he has been a key component in the San Jose Sharks organization, coaching the team’s AHL affiliate.

The Barracuda’s Sommer is the winningest coach in AHL history. He achieved that mighty milestone in February, 2016, his 18th season coaching in the league. Sommer’s 637th win moved him past Fred “Buns” Cook, who helmed the Providence Reds and Cleveland Barons, from 1937-1956.

Sommer’s success wasn’t handed to him on a silver - or teal - platter. Sommer has paid his dues. And then some.

The native of Oakland, California honed his playing skills in Canadian junior hockey, in the WCHL. He played 10 seasons of pro hockey after being drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1977. He toiled primarily in the IHL, AHL and CHL. In his NHL debut with the Edmonton Oilers, in 1981, he scored a goal. He was a member of the Calder Cup-winning Maine Mariners in 1984.

Sommer coached in Richmond (ECHL), Albany Muskegon (IHL) and worked with USA Hockey. For three seasons, he served as head coach of the San Jose Rhinos of Roller Hockey International, winning the league championship Murphy Cup in 1995. His leadership, determination and intelligence impressed Sharks brass and he became the NHL club’s assistant coach, under Darryl Sutter, during the 1997-98 season.

Since 1998, Sommer has been the coach of the Sharks’ AHL franchise, in several incarnations - the Kentucky Thoroughblades, the Cleveland Barons, the Worcester Sharks and, since 2015, the San Jose Barracuda. His teams have earned several division championships.

Most importantly, he has helped nearly 150 players to make the leap from the AHL to the NHL, teaching them what it takes to thrive in the best league in the world. Among those who have played for Sommer are Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Ryan Clowe and Evgeni Nabokov.

In his 19th season as an AHL coach, Sommers continues to groom members of the current Barracuda roster to become NHL-ready.

Check out our Coach Sommer Photo Gallery.

TOP SHELF:
What’s been the key to your longevity in coaching the Sharks’ AHL affiliate?

COACH ROY SOMMER:
I don’t know. Something must be working [chuckles]. Maybe the amount of players that have gone up to play. I think it’s like in the 140s, players who have started with us and either played for the Sharks or somewhere else in the NHL. But I don’t know. You’d have to ask them that.

TOP SHELF:
You must take great pride in watching so many of your players graduate to NHL success and knowing you had a hand in that.

COACH SOMMER:
Well, you know, that’s why I still do it. I still get a charge out of like a Ryan Carpenter who went up. He came up to our league, his first 10 games, we brought him up, he didn’t have any points. The next season, kind of struggled, then he figured it out near the end, in playoffs, had a good playoffs, carried that over into the next year, worked his butt off in the off-season, came in as the most in-shape guy in the organization, or one of them. And now he’s playing regular up with San Jose. So when you see that happen and you know you had a little bit of a part in it, that’s kind of what makes it worthwhile. Makes the journey.

TOP SHELF:
Who are some of the guys on your current roster whose skills most excite you, in terms of their NHL potential?

COACH SOMMER:
Well, a few of them are up already. [Tim] Heed’s up. [Kevin] Labanc is up. Timo [Meier] is up. Carpenter’s up. And then some guys are coming down the pike, like a [Marcus] Sorensen, he’s really coming on here lately. Dan O’Regan, who’s the leading rookie scorer in the league. [Nikolay] Goldobin, I thought his last five or six games, he’s had a lot of compete to his game and scoring goals now. And [Barclay] Goodrow, who’s been kind of up and down. He started in the NHL a few years ago, but played with us for the majority of last year. But he’s played real strong down the way here. And Joakim Ryan on the back end. Mirco Mueller. And then [Troy] Grosenick was an All-Star goalie for us. So there’s still some left down here. They haven’t completely pulled us apart.

TOP SHELF:
Obviously the main goal is the players’ development, but is it difficult to balance that with your desire to win?

COACH SOMMER:
That’s the hard part. We try to get guys in who fit their roles. But for the most part, they’ve been pretty good about, hey, if a guy’s not playing, you know, if he’s not doing what you want him to do, don’t play him. But every once in a while, we get the nudge that, hey, this guy’s got to be on the power play or we’d like to see him here or there and see what he can do and give him a chance and, if he doesn’t make the best of it, then we’ll adjust. But that’s kind of the hardest part about the American League. I mean, our last 10, 15 games, we haven’t had the same roster, game in, game out. Last weekend, we had Lebanc, Timo and Heed. Now we don’t have them. So other guys are going to have to move up or move down. Some guys are going to be on the power play that weren’t before. So it’s a constant adjustment. You always have to think on your feet a little bit down here. If you think it’s going to always be the same, then you’re going to be in trouble.

TOP SHELF:
Has your coaching philosophy evolved over the years? Do you have to adapt as the game changes?

COACH SOMMER:
I think so. When I first started, you could hold up, with bigger players. It was a different game. Now it’s more wide open. Smaller guys can play. There’s no such thing as saying a smaller guy can’t play in NHL anymore. The [Johnny] Gaudreaus and guys like that have come in and proven them wrong in that respect. So smaller guys are playing now and instead of the back end being like four guys who played really defensively and maybe one puck-mover, now it’s the opposite. We’ve got like five puck-movers down here. Maybe one stay-at-homer. The game’s changed. The players have changed. Before you could show them something on a board and they’d pick it up. Now a lot of our coaching is done through video. They’re so used to watching it, coming up through juniors. And they play video games and all that. So they’ve picked up that part of it more so than they did in the past, where the video was something you didn’t use much. Now it’s a big part of coaching. Some coaches actually over-video guys and make robots out of them. But we’ve found, I think, a happy medium here.

TOP SHELF:
Becoming the winningest coach in AHL history, that’s got to be hugely gratifying.

COACH SOMMER:
Yeah, you know what? To do that, you have to have been around a while. There’s not going to be too many guys who are going to be able to break it. You just don’t find guys who stay with the same team in the American League for 19 years. Even in the NHL, that’s a lot of longevity. It’s hard to do. It just doesn’t happen much. I don’t think you’re going to see too many coaches bouncing around in the American League for 19 years. They either want to get out of here… or they don’t do the job and they get rid of you.

TOP SHELF:
Back when you were coaching for the Rhinos roller hockey team, could you have imagined this sort of career?

COACH SOMMER:
No. No, man. I mean, when I first interviewed for the job with San Jose, it was Doug Wilson who got me the interview. And I didn’t even know I had the assistant coaching job with the Sharks until later on in the summer. Actually, I was coaching the World Championships in roller hockey in Minnesota and I got the call when I was up there, saying that they had chosen me for the assistant coach. And since then, it’s been a great ride.

TOP SHELF:
What was your dream at the time, where were you hoping your career would be going?

COACH SOMMER:
I was coaching in the East Coast League at the time, in Richmond. I’d had a lot of success down there. I was kind of waiting for my opportunity to go to the American League. I kind of bypassed that and went right to the NHL. But my dream was to coach in the NHL. So I did that. When I played, when I was in the minors, I said, “At least I want to play in the NHL.” And I achieved that dream. It wasn’t as long as I wanted, but I did play in the NHL. And I got to coach in the NHL. Some guys took the elevator. I took the stairs, I guess. A [Mike] Ricci quote.

TOP SHELF:
Coming from Oakland, when you were growing up, did the NHL seem like a realistic goal, in any capacity?

COACH SOMMER:
Yeah, I think so. I think when I started playing, I had a dream. And I worked hard at it. And when I went to the Western League, I think I was the only American in the Western Hockey League at the time. There wasn’t anyone else up there. And that’s when I started realizing, “Hey, I can play in the National Hockey League.” So I worked at it and got a break and ended up getting the call.

TOP SHELF:
During your playing days, were you already thinking of coaching in the future, trying to pick up ideas from the men you were playing for at various levels?

COACH SOMMER:
No, I wasn’t thinking about coaching. Actually, I was going to be an electrician. [Laughs] And that didn’t work out. I spent a summer doing that. I was like an apprentice electrician. And all the guys were in their mid-40s or early 50s and they all had bad backs and they all were grumbling about their jobs and I thought, “Man, I’ve got to find something else.” And I was playing in Muskegon and a guy by the name of Rick Ley, at the end of the year, we were actually in the Bahamas or something, and we’d won the championship. And he said, “Hey, have you ever thought about coaching?” I said, “No, not really.” And he said, “Well, I’d like you to be my assistant coach next year.” So I quit playing and was an assistant coach for them. And never really looked back. Got into it and fell in love with it.

TOP SHELF:
Working as an NHL assistant coach with Darryl Sutter, what did you gain from that experience?

COACH SOMMER:
That was an experience. Back then, he was trying to set the tone in San Jose for how he wanted everyone to play. And he was a mean son of a bitch, I’ll tell you that, because he got the point across. The team hadn’t made the playoffs in a years. He straightened the team out, got the team in the playoffs. And they didn’t miss the whole time he was there. And I had the opportunity to go coach in the American League. I asked him and he said, “Yeah, go for it.” And I got the head job in Kentucky and worked with him for about seven years and actually got to know him better when I was in the American League than I did when I was assistant coach with him.

TOP SHELF:
Having coached in Kentucky, Cleveland and Massachusetts for the organization, is it a lot easier having the AHL team now based out of the same facilities as the parent club?

COACH SOMMER:
I think so. I think it was a little different at first, but now that we’ve been there, I think it’s great for the players, it’s great for the organization. I mean, they just call guys next door, if someone’s hurt or sick. They’re not worn out by the flight from Worcester to here and then playing and then back again. If they need guys, they’re right there. The players are always under the microscope. They’re watching them during practices and games. So there’s nowhere to hide. If you work hard and do what you’re supposed to do, you’ll get the opportunity. I think last year, we had like 40 or 60 call-ups or something like that. I don’t know where we’re at this year, but I know it’s a lot.

TOP SHELF:
Having accomplished so much, what are your primary goals now?

COACH SOMMER:
You know what? Win a Calder Cup this year. I think we’ve got the team to do it. If we can stay healthy and we don’t get too picked apart, I think we can go pretty far in the playoffs. I don’t look much further than that.

TOP SHELF:
It must be also be gratifying to see how much, since the days of the Rhinos, hockey in general, and youth hockey in particular, has exploded in Northern California?

COACH SOMMER:
Oh, man. Hockey’s exploding in San Jose and Northern California and all of California. A lot of NHLers are coming out of here all the time now, not just one or two every 10 years.

TOP SHELF:
And you have certainly played a part in that.

COACH SOMMER:
Well, thank you.




   
 



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