“It’s the hardest one to get.”
That’s what head coach Roy Sommer said, not on Saturday night, when he won his 800th AHL game, but on Oct. 17, 1998, when he earned his first AHL victory.
Joachim Blichfeld, who scored the game-winner in a 6-3 San Jose Barracuda victory over the Henderson Silver Knights, was exactly three months old when the Kentucky Thoroughblades, then-San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliate, topped the Albany River Rats 6-4 at Rupp Arena.
“We did it the hard way,” Sommer said then, “but we got it done.” (Maloney, Mark. “T-blades score first win, 6-4 over Rats”. Lexington Herald-Leader, October 18, 1998.)
What was true then was true on Saturday night: The Barracuda jumped out to a 3-0 early third period lead, powered by back-to-back Sasha Chmelevski goals and a Jake McGrew strike, until Henderson knotted things up with three in just over seven minutes. Blichfeld, however, gave San Jose the lead for good with 5:40 left, and a pair of empty netters, the hat trick from Chmelevski and an Mark Alt goal, would seal Sommer’s pace-setting victory.
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) January 9, 2022
“A lot of wins, a lot of years it took to get it,” Sommer, in his 24th season as the San Jose Sharks’ AHL head coach, offered. “With the same organization, I guess it makes it that much sweeter.”
It hasn’t been easy getting here either: Last year, it was the team getting stranded in Texas for more than a week because of a historic ice storm. Right now, it’s having 10 call-ups with the San Jose Sharks because of COVID’s continued grip on the sport.
“You look at our lineup [tonight], and there was what, four guys in our line-up that we started the season with up front. I talked to Joe [Will] the other day, I think there’s 31 guys that are up there right now from us,” Sommer said. “All but two of them have played games, helped them get .500 on this last road trip they had.
“As long as they’re going up and they’re making a difference, which most of the guys are, that’s the best part. It makes us kind of thin down here, but it’s all about the mothership.”
That San Jose Sharks-first attitude is what has helped Sommer stick around and pile up victories in a developmental league where coaches can sometimes fall prey to chasing wins at the expense of nurturing youth.
Roy Sommer is 164 victories ahead of second-on-the-AHL’s all-time wins list, Bun Cook, who the Barracuda bench boss passed on Feb. 10, 2016.
Is Sommer ready for 900?
“900 is a lot,” he laughed. “That’s not up to me.”
Chmelevski: "Just wanted to come out & get this 800th. Last game here, he wore the bolo tie. I knew he really wanted it."
Sommer: "It wasn't the good luck one. It wasn't the 100-year-old bolo."
One of my faves…Sommer's life told through his bolo ties: https://t.co/iXlCnqmYjz
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) January 9, 2022
Leonard Coming Out of Funk
The Barracuda were steamrolled by the Silver Knights 5-1 on Friday, surrendering four goals in the second period. John Leonard did have a highlight-reel short-handed tally, as he stole the puck from Peter DiLiberatore at center ice and went bar down on Jiri Patera. Starter Sam Harvey got the hook after 40 minutes in favor of Alexei Melnichuk.
Artemi Kniazev and Timur Ibragimov missed this tilt after being placed in COVID protocol recently. Ibragimov returned the next night against Henderson and Kniazev is due back on Wednesday against the Tucson Roadrunners.
Speaking of Leonard, it’s been a tough campaign.
After going straight to the San Jose Sharks out of training camp last year, Leonard was expected to excel in the AHL this season.
Instead, Leonard started the season with two goals and an assist through his first 15 games. There was even a stretch where the winger had just four shots in six contests, a rock-bottom for a purported sniper who averaged over four shots a game in his final season at UMass.
“Everybody forgets, the American League, it’s hard to score in,” Roy Sommer said on Friday. “Here’s a guy that’s played 40 games at the NHL last year and he’s having a hard time putting the puck in the net.”
Leonard is starting to turn the corner: He’s had seven points and 31 shots in his last nine games.
“He’s starting to see the ice a little bit better. He’s starting to get more pucks to the net,” Sommer noted. “That’s the biggest thing. I don’t think he was shooting enough for a guy with a shot like his.”
For what it’s worth, I spoke with an NHL scout who’s been disappointed in particular with Leonard’s hockey IQ this season.
“I just don’t know if he’s smart enough [for the NHL],” the scout, who’s fond of Leonard’s physical tools, told San Jose Hockey Now.
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