Two of the longest-standing records in the American Hockey League are both on the verge of falling, maybe as soon as tonight. Last weekend, San Jose Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer and Rockford IceHogs goaltender Michael Leighton equaled the sought-after standards set by a pair of honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Sommer, the 18th-year coach of the San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliate, won his 636th career game on Jan. 30, tying the legendary Fred “Bun” Cook for the most victories all-time by an American Hockey League head coach. A day earlier, Leighton, in his 15th professional season, had posted his 45th career AHL shutout, matching the mark held by Johnny Bower.
The 58-year-old Sommer has been climbing the league’s wins ladder since 1998, when he debuted as head coach of the Kentucky Thoroughblades after one season as an assistant coach with the Sharks; he has now coached 1,385 regular-season contests, also the most in league history.
With Kentucky (1998-2001), the Cleveland Barons (2001-06), Worcester Sharks (2006-15) and now Barracuda, Sommer has coached 120 players who have gone on to play in the NHL.
"It’s a record that’s probably going to be hard to break," Sommer told Yahoo! Sports. "Who’s going to have the opportunity to coach 18 years in the AHL? It’s been a great run."
A 1995 inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame and a member of the AHL Hall of Fame’s second class of honorees in 2007, Cook has reigned as the AHL’s career wins leader for a remarkable 72 years. Cook won his 153rd game on Nov. 13, 1943, to surpass his brother Bill Cook for first place — a spot he held alone for 26,377 days — and would go on to finish his career with seven Calder Cup championships and 11 Finals appearances in 19 seasons with the Providence Reds (1937-43) and Cleveland Barons (1943-56).
Leighton, 34, is in the midst of a career year with Rockford, where he is 23-4-5 in 33 appearances and ranks among the league’s leaders in wins, goals-against average, save percentage, minutes played and saves.
Leighton is 10th on the AHL’s all-time wins list (216) — still well off Bower’s record of 359 there — but has caught the Hall of Famer on the shutouts list, where Bower had been alone at the top since eclipsing Nick Damore on Mar. 10, 1957.
"I want to be the best in whatever league I play in," Leighton told The Associated Press. "I think this is the 80th year of the AHL: That’s a long road of hockey. To be at the top in any category is definitely an honor."
Fresh off his fourth appearance in the AHL All-Star Classic, where his shutout in the six-minute final game gave the Central Division the All-Star Challenge championship, Leighton returns to the IceHogs tonight as they host Grand Rapids (8 p.m. ET). San Jose, meanwhile, begins a two-game series in Ontario against the Reign (10 p.m. ET). Both games can be seen on AHL Live (www.ahllive.com).