SOMMER ONE WIN SHY OF 750, LOOKS BACK AT WHERE IT BEGANFeb 1, 2019
Long before Oakland native Roy Sommer began his legendary AHL coaching career with the Kentucky Thoroughblades in the late ’90s, he carved out a 14-year professional playing career that included three NHL games with the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers, making him just the third California-born player to reach the pinnacle of the sport. In those three games, Sommer managed to score the only goal of his NHL career on January 28, 1981, against the Montreal Canadiens. The feat made him just the second Golden State born hockey player to find the back of the net in the NHL.
Edmonton won the game 9-1 and Gretzky finished with a goal and four assists.
Since Sommer reached the National Hockey League, the California hockey scene has exploded. 40 California born players have reached the NHL and counting and there are more kids playing youth hockey in the West than ever before.
Following the final season of his playing career with the IHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks, Sommer began his coaching career. After a pair of campaigns as an assistant with both Muskegon and the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders, Sommer landed his first head job with the ECHL’s Richmond Renegades, winning a league championship in the fourth season at the helm.
Sommer would return to his native Bay Area in 1996 when the Sharks hired him as an assistant. After a pair of seasons in San Jose, Sommer landed the Sharks AHL affiliate head job and as they say, the rest is history.
21-years later, Sommer is the AHL’s longest-tenured head coach, the all-time leader in wins (749-639-48-78-73) (W-L-T-OTL-SOL) and the all-time leader in games coached and is now just one victory away from 750.
On Saturday, the Barracuda will honor the Kentucky Thoroughblades as part of a five-game affiliate throwback series, honoring the history of the San Jose Sharks affiliates.
In preparation for Thoroughblades night, sjbarracuda.com sat down with Sommer, Barracuda Development Coach Evgeni Nabokov and General Manager Joe Will. Below are quotes from all three men regarding the era and what they remember from Roy’s AHL start.
Roy Sommer: “I had just finished my first season under Darryl Sutter as an assistant with the San Jose Sharks, and the job came up in Kentucky to be a head coach in the American League. So, I asked Darrly if I could interview for the job and get a head job, and he said, yeah, go for it. So, I interviewed with Wayne Thomas for the job down in Kentucky and I ended up getting it and we moved from San Jose to Kentucky and 22 years later I’m still in the American Hockey League so it was a good move.”
Joe Will: “Roy was really known as an up and coming coach in the ECHL. He had won championships and really tore through that league. And his ties to San Jose, being born and raised in Oakland, being one of the first, if not the first players from California to play in the National Hockey League. And he coached the San Jose Rhinos, the roller hockey team in San Jose, so he was connected with Doug (Wilson) and connected to a number of people in the organization so it was pretty easy to hire him. He was a really well-qualified coach ready for his next jump. I couple years in Kentucky and he was hired to coach the team and that started his run with us.”
Evgeni Nabokov: “My first year Jim Wiley was the head coach and then my second year Roy came on board. He was very vocal and he liked to challenge guys. He does it now. To be honest, every coach I’ve had I’ve like. I always thought if you take care of the d-zone, I like you! (laughs). And he did, and he did a good job with the defensive structure. It’s funny all these years later how the circle of life works and now we work together and we’re having a good time and sometimes we like to chirp each other (laughs). He still yells at the guys if we don’t play well (laughs). It’s pretty remarkable though… how many coaches stay with one organization with their farm team? None, so, he’s the only one… dinosaur (laughs)."