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Sharks Greats on Sommer’s Induction to AHL Hall of Fame

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Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

Roy Sommer was right where he belongs.

Sommer was inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame today in, naturally, San Jose. And of course, the Cowboy accepted the honor in a cowboy hat and with a joke at Montgomery Theater.

Sommer is also right where he belongs in the AHL Hall of Fame: He’s the winningest coach in AHL history, most of his 828 wins coming as the head coach of San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliates Kentucky Thoroughblades, Cleveland Barons, Worcester Sharks, and San Jose Barracuda, from 1998 to 2022. He also coached the San Diego Gulls in 2022-23 and announced his retirement after that season.

But Sommer also belongs behind a bench.

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 about to become open because of some controversy around then-coach Kevin Constantine.

Then, Sommer checked with his wife Melissa, the ultimate coach’s wife, who’s been with him through, according to Sommer himself, nine different states, 17 different cities, and 19 different houses and apartments over the course of that vagabond hockey life. She gave the thumbs up.

“I don’t know what I’d do without her,” he said. “She’s a special lady.”

So off went Sommer again, this time to where AHL honorary captain and former Sommer player Dan Boyle described, in jest, as “the middle of buttfuck nowhere in Washington.”

Wenatchee is actually the self-styled Apple Capital of the World, and there, Sommer, 66, is being rejuvenated by the youth around him.

“It’s kids. They’re super-hungry to get to the next level,” he said of a resetting group that he’s got fighting for a playoff spot. “They’re just kind of fun to be around. They do some dumb stuff. Everyday. Sometimes I come in and I just shake my head at what they’re doing, but they’re kids and they’re sponges. They want to get better, and I think I have helped some of them along the way, which is kind of cool.”

Sommer says that he told Wenatchee that he would “come and help them for a year” but didn’t close the door on coaching there longer.

It’s a familiar position for Sommer. He was part of three decades of developing boys into men with the San Jose Sharks.

Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, Joe Pavelski, Dan Boyle, Thomas Greiss, Jason Demers, Justin Braun, Miikka Kiprusoff, Evgeni Nabokov, Jonathan Cheechoo, Ryan Clowe, and Douglas Murray are among the San Jose Sharks who played under Sommer in the AHL.

Boyle came to Sommer during a dark time in his career, when he was an undrafted 22-year-old Florida Panthers prospect in 1998.

“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,” the typically confident blueliner recalled today. “That’s when I got sent…to Lexington, Kentucky, where the hell is that?”

That’s where Sommer was starting his record-breaking AHL head coaching career with the Thoroughblades. Kentucky was the San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliate, but they also featured some Panthers prospects too, because Florida didn’t have an AHL squad then.

And that’s where Sommer, when he could have been playing favorites for the organization that he was working for, showed some early coaching mettle.

“I was a Florida guy. We were the rejects, we call ourselves. He could’ve put us on the backburner, 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,” Boyle told Sommer. “Without you, I wouldn’t be up here today.”

Boyle would pay San Jose and Sommer off in a big way, starring for the Sharks from 2008 to 2014. He was third among NHL defensemen with 269 points in that time, behind only Duncan Keith and Shea Weber.

Jonathan Cheechoo repeated Boyle’s words: “I wouldn’t be where I am without him.”

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. 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 recalled. “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.”

Jason Demers echoed both Boyle and Cheechoo. The 2008 San Jose Sharks draft pick was in Worcester from 2008 to 2010, coming out of seventh-round obscurity into a 700-game NHL career.

“He just keeps it light and lets you play, so for a young kid in the minors, that can be a great thing,” Demers shared. “He’s just one of the most genuine human beings, so you want to do well for him.”

So keep doing what you love and keep coachin’, Cowboy!

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