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Roy Sommer’s life...told through his bolo ties

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Sommer tells the stories behind his many wonderful bolo ties

New York Rangers v San Jose Sharks
Associate head coach Roy Sommer of the San Jose Sharks coaches in his first game against the New York Rangers at SAP Center on December 12, 2019 in San Jose, California
Photo by Kavin Mistry/NHLI via Getty Images

On Dec. 12th, Roy Sommer created an immediate sensation when he stepped behind the bench. And it wasn’t because Patrick Marleau was a rookie the last time Sommer coached in the NHL.

The next month, Prada debuted its bolo tie. No less than Nick Jonas, Quavo and Dylan Sprouse have already sported “this year’s viral celebrity accessory”.

Coincidence?

The 62-year-old howled at his inclusion in a recent Wall Street Journal story trumpeting the bolo comeback: “I was like, huh? Huh? With the rappers!”

But in this case, the clothes do make the man and tell the story of his life. A number of the San Jose Sharks associate coach’s bolo ties — he owns at least seven — have deep personal significance. They tell, in fact, a story that stretches back almost 150 years...

The First Tie

Sommer’s first bolo tie is also his most important.

It was the tie worn when he returned to the NHL on Dec. 12, after 22 seasons of coaching in the AHL.

It was the tie worn when he married Melissa McCollum in 1993.

(Photo courtesy Roy and Melissa Sommer)

It was the tie worn by Sommer’s great-great grandfather.

“That bolo right there is probably 130 years old,” Sommer said. “I saw that sitting on my grandfather’s dresser when he passed away.”

Sommer’s family emigrated from Germany in the 1870s. He recounted: “They went to New York first. They came on a covered wagon, settled in Salinas. They were dairy farmers.

“My great-grandfather, he married a Twisselman. When you’re driving down Highway 5, towards LA, you’ll see a Twisselman exit. It’s got to be the same family. They were German too.”

Roy’s grandfather, nine-year-old Carl Sommer, sits in the middle in this 1905 photograph of the Sommers. Roy’s great-grandfather sits at the far right. (Photo courtesy Roy and Melissa Sommer)

Naturally, this tie, made of brass and abalone shell, is staying in the family. Sommer’s son Castan is an assistant coach for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds.

”He laughs at all this stuff,” Sommer revealed. “But he’ll end up getting it if he wants it. Might as well keep it in the family.”

The Old Friend

A life-long friend hand-made Sommer this beauty.

“It’s R.S.,” Sommer said of the design. “That’s elk bone, cut from the bottom that holds the elk horns up. There’s a little tooth in there from a female elk. The ties are elk hide that he wove. The bottom of the ties are horns.”

That’s about right from a friend that Sommer described as “an old mountain man from Colorado, hunter and a guide.”

Sommer and Kevin McDonough actually grew up together in Oakland, but the Old West called to them early.

Sommer was just 20, fresh off being drafted in the sixth round by the Toronto Maple Leafs, when he purchased land in Montana. He’s held the same property for the last 42 years.

“I just like the outdoors. Fishing, fly fishing. Getting on a horse,” Sommer said. “You can see a lot more land on a horse than walking. Critters aren’t as skittish because it’s another animal walking through.”

Roy Sommer and Kevin McDonough at the Buckhorn Exchange in Denver. (Photo courtesy Roy Sommer)

Meanwhile, McDonough moved to Colorado, eventually owning a logging company. In fact, Sommer and McDonough logged together one summer.

On receiving this gift, Sommer told McDonough: “I said, ‘I’ll put in on tonight.’ He said, ‘Hey, can you get a picture of it? I can’t get an NHL game up where I live.’”

The AHL

Sommer’s professional playing career was three NHL games with Wayne Gretzky and 783 minor league games with Paul Messier and Monty Trottier. On the other hand, his professional coaching numbers — highlighted by an AHL-record 1,668 games coached and 773 wins — are in a league of their own.

That’s 22 AHL seasons, all with the Sharks organization, in Kentucky, Cleveland, Worcester and San Jose, and not including the two seasons that Sommer was a Sharks assistant coach from 1996-98.

“I broke it out when we were in Cleveland. No one ever wears a bolo tie coaching,” Sommer laughed. “We got a win. Whenever the team started going bad or needed a win, I would always break that tie out. It was like 90 percent.”

In honor of Sommer establishing the all-time record for AHL games coached in March 2014, Melissa Sommer gave him this dichroic glass bolo tie made by Dana and Karen Robbins.

Its shape was no coincidence.

“At the time, that was our [team] motto, it was ‘Shield to Shield’,” Sommer recalled. “From ‘300’.”

Melissa Sommer tweeted in December, “It’s in the shape of a shield — every night, loss or win, felt like going into battle — especially with young guys who were always so hopeful.”

Sommer would wear the shield on another special night in Feburary 2016, when San Jose celebrated his record-breaking 637th AHL victory before a Sharks game.

He smiled, “My mom was there.”

Arizona Coyotes v San Jose Sharks
Roy Sommer along with friends and family celebrate Sommer’s award at the SAP Center at San Jose on February 13, 2016 in San Jose, California.
Photo by Don Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

The NHL (Again)

“That’s the most expensive thing I own,” Sommer chuckled. “More than my suits or boots or hat. That tie is the most expensive piece of clothing that I own.”

This was a Christmas present from Melissa, a silver and Kingman turquoise bolo by David Rosales, recognizing Sommer’s return to the big show.

“That’s all silver. It’s heavy. You can tell it’s on your neck,” Sommer noted. “That’s an NHL tie right there.”

There are, of course, some that might disagree.

“The purists probably don’t like it because it’s always been a shirt-and-tie league,” Sommer said. “I don’t know if anyone’s ever worn one before.”

What Sommer does know, however, is the importance of staying true to yourself, even in the most prestigious league in the world. The bolo ties are Roy being Roy, one of the most successful coaches in hockey history being one of the most successful coaches in hockey history.

“I’m not going to change who I am,” Sommer said. “I think I deserve that, I’ve been in the American league for 22 years.”

This is Melissa Sommer’s husband, on and off the ice, and she loves it: “He really does identify as a cowboy.”

(Photo courtesy Roy and Melissa Sommer)

Tonight is Cuda Country Night! Watch the San Jose Barracuda square off against the San Diego Gulls at 7 P.M. at SAP Center. The first 4,000 fans get a cowboy-themed Roy Sommer win counter bobblehead. More details here.