Roy Sommer is an AHL hockey icon. The now-retired, in a sense, head coach who spent 24 years with the San Jose Sharks organization was rewarded for all his great work he had performed as a head coach when he was inducted into the American Hockey Hall of Fame this past Monday afternoon at the Montgomery Theater in Downtown San Jose.
It was fitting for the longest-tenured coach in the Sharks organization to be enshrined in the city, having returned home in 2015 when the Sharks moved their AHL team from Worcester, Mass, west to Silicon Valley.
Sommer, an Oakland native, said it was “pretty cool” to be recognized in the city where his coaching career began as the head coach of the roller hockey San Jose Rhinos team.
“Growing up right down the road and driving by this place, all those years my grandparents lived in Ben Lomond (Calif.) and going through San Jose. Actually, when I used to drive through here was all cherry blossoms and orchids. Now look at the place. So, it’s (San Jose) grown a lot, hockey has grown a lot, it’s a special time in my life right now.
The AHL is the top minor league in North America. Its goal is to develop the next generation of talent for the National Hockey League. Sommer did an incredible job of developing that for the Sharks organization for 24 years in stops that included Lexington, Kentucky (Kentucky Thoroughblades) from 1998, his first year with the organization, to 2001; Cleveland from 2001-06 (Cleveland Barons) and aforementioned Worcester (Sharks) from 2006-15.
Along the way, Sommer and his coaching staffs helped develop players who went on to have good, if not great, careers in the NHL such as Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, Joe Pavelski, Justin Braun, Miikka Kiprusoff, Evgeni Nabokov, Jonathan Cheechoo, Logan Couture, Andrew Desjardins, and Dan Boyle are some of the notable names on Sommer’s long list.
“When I got to my first pro camp, that was the one time that I lost my confidence and I felt like I didn’t belong,” said Boyle as he referenced Sommer during his speech at the induction ceremony. “That’s when I got sent…to Lexington, Kentucky, where the hell is that?”
Boyle, one of the AHL honorary captains at this year’s AHL All-Star Challenge, continued.
“I was a Florida guy. We were the rejects, we call ourselves. He (Sommer) could’ve put us on the back burner, you’re trying to develop your guys, and thankfully, I think the first game I played 29 minutes and played a half a year for you and played a ton. “Without you, I wouldn’t be up here today.”
Sommer went into the record books as the winningest coach in AHL history with 828 wins and coached the most games at 1,847. In that span, he captured four division titles, coached in three AHL All-Star Classics, and earned the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding coach in the 2016-17 season as he took the ‘Cuda to the conference finals that season.
Cheechoo was a 1998 San Jose Sharks second-round pick, who landed in Lexington in 2000.
“He got me where I am not just on the hockey (ice), but in life,” said Cheechoo. “I was coming out of juniors; I’d never lived alone. Learned a lot of life lessons from him. He was always there; he was always patient. That’s what made him such a great coach.”
The 2006 Rocket Richard winner continued.
“He was willing to let kids develop and give them time. A lot of coaches will cut you off if you make a few mistakes. I wouldn’t be where I am without him.”
Sommer, during his induction speech, thanked his wife Melissa, who has stayed by his side the entire way which according to Sommer included nine different states, 17 different cities, and 19 different houses and apartments during his hockey journey.
“I don’t know what I’d do without her.” “She’s a special lady,” Sommer said who donned an old Wild West style attire complete with a Cowboy and his grandfather’s signature bola tie.
Sommer also thanked his three kids, daughter Kira, eldest son Castan, who coaches men’s ice hockey at College of the Holy Cross, and Marley or “Moe” as his nickname came to be around the players. Marley, who has Down syndrome, was a staple in the locker room, who quickly became not just a favorite of the players but also a fan favorite whenever they showed him on the scoreboard dancing between whistles.
Sommer, who got emotional when talking about Marley, called his son his best friend. It’s not easy being able to balance life off the ice with life on the ice as a head coach, but Sommer was able to successfully pull it off. It’s one of the main things that stood out about Sommer to Sharks radio-play-by-play broadcaster Dan Rusanowsky.
“The biggest thing that stands out to me about Roy Sommer is the way that he integrated his life into his work. And that is bringing Marley into the locker room. I think Marley had a huge impact on a lot of players because they had to remember that they had a life outside of the sport. They had an opportunity to help somebody make their life better and Marley made their life better,” Rusanowsky stated.
Rusanowsky continued as he believes Sommer was underappreciated for all that he accomplished during his coaching career.
“I think he doesn’t get the credit he deserves for the coaching he has brought to the organization and to hockey in general. He’s still doing it with (junior hockey) kids now. He was in San Diego (last season), but mostly with the Sharks organization. (He’s) just a great person and somebody that everybody loves,”
When asked if there was one moment that stood out for Sommer during his 24 years with the Sharks organization, the gravely voiced ex-coach said the development of the players who were long shots at making it to the next level is what stands out for him.
“I think the biggest thing is like the Dan Boyles, and the (Jonathan) Cheechoo’s, the (Andrew) Dejardins’. You know guys that weren’t maybe first-round draft picks that ended up having pretty damn good careers. Be it late (round) picks or (undrafted) free agents. You had a part of them making a living in the National Hockey League. I think that’s what resonates with me the most” Sommer said.
Sommer’s AHL coaching career came to an end last season when he coached the San Diego Gulls, affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks, for the 2022-23 season. But for a guy like Sommer, who relishes helping develop hockey talent, he didn’t exactly ride off into the sunset.
A month into the 2023-24 season, ex-San Jose Sharks director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr. told him the WHL’s Wenatchee Wild head coaching position might be available when controversy surrounding the head coach there Kevin Constantine, a former Sharks head coach, Sommer said he went up Wenatchee, who according to Boyle is in “the middle of buttfuck nowhere in Washington” to go for an interview to check it out and the rest is history.
However long Sommer wants to continue to teach, coach, and develop the youth of hockey will be up to him and I’m sure Melissa. One thing no one can argue is, he has forever cemented his legacy of being one of the greatest coaches to stand behind a bench.
March 4, 2020
December 11, 2019
Defenseman Ryan Merkley after the Barracuda's 10-5 win over the Colorado Eagles on December 15, 2021.
Head coach Roy Sommer after the Barracuda's 10-5 win over the Colorado Eagles on December 15, 2021.
Forward Evander Kane after the Barracuda's 10-5 win over the Colorado Eagles on December 15, 2021.