Sunday, 12 February 2012

Important Milestone

The man to the left hit an important milestone in anyone's career last night. Roy Sommer, head coach of the Worcester Sharks, notched his 500th win of his coaching career in the Sharks' 3-2 shootout win over the Hershey Bears last night. What makes Sommer's achievement even more remarkable is that he is only the fourth head coach in AHL history to hit that mark. It's a tribute to his longevity as a coach in the junior circuit, but it also marks his commitment to teaching and winning. Like the men who hit this mark before him - Fred "Bun" Cook (636 wins), Frank Mathers (610), and John Paddock (589) - Sommer has certainly put his time into his craft, and there's a good chance that he could catch Cook in the future.

Sommer has spent 14 seasons coaching in the AHL, spending time with the Kentucky Thoroughblades, Cleveland Barons, and the Worcester Sharks, compiling a record of 500-496-90 as a head coach. While his stints as head coach of the Thoroughblades and Sharks have produced winners, the five seasons spent with the Barons saw him only attain one winning season. His achievement has not come without its struggles.

Sommer's first win was against the Albany River Rats back on October 17, 1998 when his Thoroughblades downed the River Rats by a 6-4 score. Since then, he has worked for the San Jose Sharks organization in their AHL affiliates for 15 years as head coach. He has seen over 80 players promoted to the NHL level including Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Miikka Kiprusoff, and Devin Setoguchi. But his moves through the hockey world has been more than just an AHL career.

Sommer got his head coaching start with the ECHL's Richmond Renegades in 1991. Learning the craft in the ECHL, Sommer's teams showed improvement year after year. In 1994-95, Sommer led the Renegades into the playoffs where they captured the Riley Cup after posting an impressive 41-20-7 record. He was also honoured as the East All-Star Team's head coach as the Renegades had one of the top records in the ECHL. In 1995-96, Sommer was named ECHL Coach of the Year after leading the Renegades to top spot in the league with a 46-11-13 record and 105 points. He was invited to the All-Star Game again as the North All-Star Team's head coach.

Meanwhile, Sommer's summers had been spent in the roller hockey league known as Roller Hockey International where he was the head coach of the expansion San Jose Rhinos from 1994 to 1996. He helped the Rhinos capture the Murphy Cup, the league's championship, in 1995 over the Montreal Roadrunners, and was named as the head coach of the RHI's Western Conference All-Star Team in 1996.

In 1996, Sommer took a job as the head coach of Team USA's inline hockey team which was preparing for the International Ice Hockey Federation In-Line Hockey World Championships in St. Paul, Minnesota. Sommer led Team USA a gold medal in St. Paul, and he decided to continue this gig for the next year. In 1997, Team USA again captured gold in Anaheim, and he took over the GM duties in 1998 for the tournament in Anaheim. Team USA looked poised to capture its third-straight gold medal, but an upstart Canadian team beat Team USA in the final. For his three seasons as head coach of the Team USA Inline Team, Sommer compiled a 17-1-0 mark - an impressive total for any international coach!

In 1998-99, Sommer was named as the head coach of the Kentucky Thoroughblades. In his three seasons in Lexington, Kentucky, Sommer lead the T-Blades to an 128-76-28-8 record, three Calder Cup playoff appearances, two Mid-Atlantic Division titles, and was named as the head coach of the Canadian All-Star Team in 1999-2000. Clearly, the skills he had honed in the ECHL, RHI, and with Team USA had prepared Sommer well for an AHL coaching gig. However, with declining attendance, the San Jose Sharks decided to move their affiliate to Cleveland, Ohio where they would be rechristened as the Barons.

From 2001-2006, the Barons plied their trade in front of fans in Cleveland. The Barons never really had any sort of success in Cleveland - much like their NHL namesake - and never finished higher than fourth in their division. Attendance was no better than in Lexington, and, in fact, worse than in Kentucky in three of their five seasons on the Lake Erie coast. Sommer would finish the five seasons in Cleveland with a record of 150-201-26-20. The only season they reached the Calder Cup Playoffs was in 2003-04 where they defeated the Toronto Marlies 2-1 in the best-of-three preliminary round before falling to the Hamilton Bulldogs 4-2 in the first-round of the playoffs.

The Sharks weren't overly-impressed with the lack of fan support in Cleveland. That's when Worcester, Massachusetts came calling. The St. Louis Blues had decided to move their AHL affiliate, the Worcester IceCats, to Peoria, Illinois for the 2005-06 season, and the people of Worcester began petitioning several NHL teams to move their AHL team to the city. After negotiations with several teams fell through, the Sharks saw the city of Worcester as a viable option in comparison with Cleveland. On January 6, 2006, the Sharks announced that they would move the Barons to Worcester for the start of the 2006-07 season.

In Worcester, the Sharks have found their winning ways again. Sommer has led the Sharks to a 222-171-20-33 record over six seasons thus far, and he continues to help the Sharks ready themselves for a playoff run. In 2009-10, the Sharks captured the Atlantic Division crown, but playoff success continues to elude them as they have fallen in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs twice.

It's clear, though, that Sommer has had major impact on the various levels at which he coached. January 14, 2011 saw Sommer coach in his 1000th AHL game, becoming the fourth man to achieve that feat, and now he can add his name to another lofty milestone. Congratulations go out to Roy Sommer on this accolade, and here's hoping that he can continue to have long-term success in his post with the Sharks and any future endeavours!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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