ELITE COMPANY … Fred “Bun” Cook, Frank Mathers, John Paddock. And now Roy Sommer.
Only four head coaches in the history of the American Hockey League have won 500 regular-season games, a group that Sommer joined on Feb. 11 when his Worcester Sharks earned a 3-2 shootout victory over the Hershey Bears.
A 1977 draft pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Sommer played 10 seasons of professional hockey and was a member of the 1984 Maine Mariners’ Calder Cup championship team that was coached by Paddock. The Oakland, Calif., native got into coaching in 1987 and after two seasons (1996-98) as an assistant in San Jose, he was named head coach of the Sharks’ AHL affiliate in Lexington, Ky.
Now in his 14th season in charge of the Sharks’ AHL prospects, Sommer has seen the 29 other National Hockey League organizations make 151 changes to their top development coaching position since he assumed his post in October 1998. Among active AHL head coaches, Mark Morris is second in tenure as he continues his sixth season guiding the Los Angeles Kings’ affiliate in Manchester.
Sommer, who has led six 40-win campaigns and won three division titles, has a record of 501-496-90 with the Kentucky Thoroughblades (1998-2001), Cleveland Barons (2001-06) and Worcester Sharks (2006- ), good for fourth all-time in both victories and games coached (1,083). He has coached more than 100 players who have gone on to the National Hockey League, including Joe Pavelski, Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture, Douglas Murray, Jamie McGinn, Devin Setoguchi, Dan Boyle, Miikka Kiprusoff, Brad Boyes, Christian Ehrhoff, Evgeni Nabokov, Andy Sutton, Johan Hedberg and Mikael Samuelsson. Sommer also has 28 Calder Cup Playoff wins to his credit, and he guided the Canadian team to victory at the 2000 AHL All-Star Game.
Sommer’s 500th win came in dramatic fashion, as Tim Kennedy scored his first goal as a Shark with 1:16 left in regulation to tie the game at 2-2. Brodie Reid then converted in the seventh round of the shootout and Tyson Sexsmith finished a perfect 7-for-7 to give Worcester the 3-2 decision.
Bun Cook spent 19 seasons in the AHL coaching the Providence Reds (1937-43) and Cleveland Barons (1943-56), winning 636 games and seven Calder Cup championships. Frank Mathers spent his entire coaching career with the Hershey Bears (1956-73, 84-85), earning 610 victories. John Paddock, with 589 wins, is the only coach in league history to win Calder Cups with three different teams (Maine, Hershey, Hartford). Cook, Mathers and Paddock are all members of the American Hockey League Hall of Fame.
ABOUT-FACE FOR WHALE … A winless January is becoming a distant memory for the Connecticut Whale, who are back atop the Northeast Division after earning 11 of a possible 12 points to start February.
The Whale’s hold on first place disappeared as they went 0-6-3-2 over the first month of 2012, allowing Bridgeport to make up a 14-point deficit and jump from last place to overtake their in-state rivals. But since the All-Star break, Connecticut has gone 5-0-1-0 to reclaim the top spot in the division, a perch made all the more important by the fact that the second-place Sound Tigers also hold a tenuous three-point lead for the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
Connecticut and Bridgeport face off three more times this season, with the next meeting set for Mar. 9.
SANGUINETTI POWERED UP … Charlotte defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti recorded a point in 11 consecutive games from Jan. 12 to Feb. 10, the longest scoring streak by an AHL defenseman in nearly three years.
The Checkers went 8-3-0-0 during the streak, which saw the fourth-year pro total five goals and 10 assists. For the season, Sanguinetti (6-22-28) has scored all six of his goals and recorded 14 of his 22 assists on a Charlotte power play which ranks third in the AHL at 21.1 percent. His last even-strength goal came on Nov. 19, 2010.
MORE OF THE SAME … One of the most consistent offensive producers in the AHL over the last five seasons, Peoria forward T.J. Hensick is poised to make a run at his first scoring title in 2011-12.
Third in the league in scoring and the only one of the top six who doesn’t play in Hershey or Norfolk, Hensick has 18 goals and 44 assists for 62 points in 50 games with the Rivermen this season. His 262 points in 229 career AHL contests are good for a 1.14 points-per-game average, second only to Keith Aucoin (1.15) among active players.
Hensick, who played in his fourth AHL All-Star Classic last month, has tallied 7-16-23 in his last 16 games and has been held off the scoresheet in back-to-back games just once all season (Dec. 9-10).
QUICK HITS … Oklahoma City defenseman Bryan Helmer skated in his 1,071st regular-season AHL game on Feb. 11, tying AHL Hall of Famer Harry Pidhirny for third place all-time; only AHL legends Willie Marshall (1,205) and Fred Glover (1,201) have played more career games in the league than Helmer… Called up from Grand Rapids on Feb. 3, Joey MacDonald made his fourth consecutive start for Detroit on Feb. 12 vs. Philadelphia, helping the Red Wings tie an NHL record with their 20th straight home win… After spending the first 36 games of the season on the Griffins’ injured list, Chris Minard has 9-2-11 in 12 games, including a hat trick in a 7-4 win over San Antonio on Feb. 12… A hooking minor assessed to Houston’s Chad Rau on Feb. 7 in Chicago was his first penalty of the season, coming in his 43rd game… Hugh Jessiman, who had scored 20 of Lake Erie’s 121 non-shootout goals this season, signed a contract with Abbotsford on Feb. 13 after his second 25-game tryout with the Monsters expired… With a 9-4 victory over Texas on Feb. 10, Rochester scored its most goals in a game since a 10-4 win over Binghamton on Dec. 16, 2006… San Antonio embarked on its annual marathon road trip while the Stock Show & Rodeo takes over the AT&T Center; the Rampage have started 3-1-0-0 on the 11-game, 23-day trek.