SAN JOSE – Roy Sommer is in his 19th year coaching the Sharks' primary minor league affiliate, and has the most wins behind the bench in American Hockey League history.
Tuesday's 2-1 overtime triumph over the Stockton Heat, in his mind, was the biggest of his career. The Barracuda advanced to the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs with the exhilarating victory.
"For me, that was the biggest game I've coached since I've been in the American League," Sommer said. "As far as the organization, for what we've gone through this year, I'm just really happy that those guys get to go on and keep going."
Sommer is referring to how dominant and impressive a regular season it was for his Barracuda club, and how disappointing it would have been to suffer a first round exit. San Jose finished with the best record in the Western Conference, Sommer was the AHL's coach of the year, Danny O'Regan was the rookie of the year, and Troy Grosenick was named as the most outstanding goalie.
Despite finishing with nine wins and 18 points more than Stockton in the regular season, the Calgary Flames' affiliate pushed the Barracuda to the brink.
"If we would have lost that, that would have been a long summer for me," Sommer said.
Of course, they'll take the series win any way it comes.
"We didn't expect it to be easy, and I think if you ask any team that has won the Stanley Cup or Calder Cup or any type of championship at high-level hockey, you're going to go through adversity at some point in the playoff run," Grosenick said. "We had a big series here with probably our biggest rival and we knew it wasn't going to be easy. We battled through, so it feels good."
Ryan Carpenter was the offensive leader for the Barracuda through the first round with seven points (4g, 3a), including the overtime winner in Game 5. The 26-year-old center, who was effective whenever he was recalled by the Sharks in the regular season, is in his fourth year with the Barracuda/Worcester Sharks.
Sommer indicated the Florida native is the type of guy that picks up his game at the most important time of year.
"He's just a playoff performer. Every year he's been our best player in the playoffs, the last three years we've gotten in," Sommer said. "He finally got the big one."
Timo Meier was also outstanding in Game 5, getting the all-important tying goal in the third period and finishing with eight shots on goal. He and Marcus Sorensen were reassigned shortly after getting their first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Sharks' first round loss to Edmonton.
Sommer didn't like Meier's first couple games in the Stockton series, but said: "He scored a hell of a goal for us [Tuesday] night. … When he wants to play, he's a horse."
The Barracuda open the second round on Friday and Saturday at SAP Center against the San Diego Gulls, who beat the Ontario Reign in five games in the first round. Goaltending figures to play a key role, as Grosenick will face Jhonas Enroth, a 28-year-old veteran that has significant NHL experience, including in 2015-16 when he was the backup to Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles.
San Diego was neck-and-neck with the Barracuda for much of the regular season, finishing just four points back in the AHL's Pacific Division.
"They're a great team," Carpenter said. "They've got a lot of skilled forwards, good goaltending, they're hard to play against, especially in their own building, too. It's going to be a battle."
The Gulls are the primary affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks, who remain alive in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That could help the Barracuda, especially if the Ducks need a player or two as they continue to battle the Oilers in a second round series that is now tied at two games apiece.
"It's one of those things, and I've been there before in the Calder Cup playoffs, their NHL team is playing. And they don't care if they have to recall a guy or whatever, they're going to take him," Sommer said. "So, that hurts."
"We got some help when the Sharks got bumped with Timo, who ends up getting the [tying goal] tonight. That's the way it goes. It's kind of good playing a team when their big club is still in it."
Barracuda-San Diego Calder Cup playoff schedule
Game 1: Friday, May 5, 2017 (7 p.m.) - SAP Center
Game 2: Saturday, May 6, 2017 (7 p.m.) - SAP Center
Game 3: Wednesday, May 10, 2017 (7 p.m.) - Valley View Casino Center
Game 4: Friday, May 12, 2017 (7 p.m.) - Valley View Casino Center
*Game 5: Saturday, May 13, 2017 (7 p.m.) - Valley View Casino Center
*Game 6: Tuesday, May 16, 2017 (7 p.m.) - SAP Center
*Game 7: Wednesday, May 17, 2017 (7 p.m.) - SAP Center