By Ben Leonard
SAN JOSE, Calif. —
After eighteen seasons as a coach in the American Hockey League, it’s about time San Jose Barracuda coach Sommer got to wear his barracuda hat. The cap is literally a big fish, apparently a barracuda, but probably actually a koi, and is emblazoned with countless jewels and charms. A “mail-order barracuda,” Sommer called it. Fit for a king.
The honor of wearing such a hat is only bestowed upon the player of the game, but tonight, his team finally honored him with the right to wear it. Wednesday night, Sommer surpassed legendary AHL coach and Hockey Hall of Famer Fred “Bun” Cook with his 637th career win, a 4-2 victory over the Ontario Reign.
It had been a long time coming — the Barracuda had dropped eight of their previous nine games, making Sommer wait what seemed like an eternity for his right to wear that hat.
A native of nearby Oakland, Sommer briefly played for the Edmonton Oilers before making it into coaching. He started his career as an assistant with the Sharks, sticking with the organization becoming a head coach in the AHL. He coached the Cleveland Barons, the Worcester Sharks, and the Kentucky Thoroughblades (all San Jose affiliates) throughout his 18-year career.
“It’s an honor,” Sommer said Wednesday. “You look at all the guys who have coached in the American Hockey League. You think back on the people you’ve worked with and the trainers, and how the organization stuck with me. It’s something to do it with the same organization, and that’s what makes me proud.”
The ever-humble Sommer has been very nonchalant about the win chase throughout the process, even after getting the big win Wednesday. “We’re just putting another season in. What I liked most about it was that we’re back in a playoff spot — I was looking for that more than we win. A big thing for me is that after everyone’s been talking so much about it, that it’s finally done.”
What made the win even better for Sommer was that his ‘Cuda did it against the best team in the league. Ontario (28-10-3-1) had won nine straight games coming into today, and were stopped in their tracks by Barracuda goaltender Aaron Dell, who made a whopping 50 of 52 save attempts.
“This was one I’ll remember, being at SAP and in the Bay Area and getting to win it here, Sommer said. “That’s special. I’ll remember all the guys in the room.”
Barracuda captain Bryan Lerg felt sorry for Sommer because his team had taken so long to get Sommer his win. The team had been playing tighter, desperately trying to get that win, so much so that it probably made his wait longer.
Why did his team push so hard? Lerg and the rest of the team has seen much more of Sommer than the yelling that most fans observe from the sidelines. “He’s obviously a great coach, but most people don’t get to know how great of a person he is,” Lerg said. “That’s the best part about him. He has a great family and fits in great with us, and lets us have our fun. When you’re winning with Roy, it’s a great time. That’s why guys play hard for him.”
Now that the long, drawn-out chase is over with, Sommer said he’s going to go home wearing that hat and have a well-deserved beer. But after that, in typical Sommer fashion, it’s “back to business.”