Shawn Szydlowski has skated eight seasons with the Komets and he, at last, has solidified his résumé with a championship. If there was any doubt before, it now seems apparent his jersey will someday be lifted to the rafters at Memorial Coliseum. And he’ll likely be the last one to receive that honor for a long while.
But that doesn’t mean he’s done playing, not based on how he performed in the playoffs or what he said shortly after hoisting the Kelly Cup on Friday night at Memorial Coliseum.
“After this, I can’t be done. I’ve still got some left in me, I feel like. After this, I want to do it again,” Szydlowski said.
Every summer, the Komets lose players to retirement. Age, injuries, familial responsibilities and the call of higher-paying jobs compete with love of the game. So there’s no telling just how many players will make Friday’s 2-1 victory over the South Carolina Stingrays their final contest.
But the decisions made, in particular, by 30-year-old Szydlowski, the team’s longest tenured player, and 31-year-old A.J. Jenks, its captain, will be watched.
Jenks said he wasn’t ready to even think about next season.
“That’s the true definition of a team right there. That’s why we won,” Jenks said, as he watched his teammates celebrate. “It feels like this has been a long time coming, but I finally got it and I couldn’t be happier.”
Szydlowski finished the postseason with two goals and 11 points in only nine games, thriving with new linemates Alan Lyszczarczyk and Anthony Nellis. In the finals, which Fort Wayne won 3-1, Szydlowski had two goals and four points, highlighted by his two goals and an assist in the 6-4 victory in Game 3.
He had a message for the Fort Wayne fans, after 10,477 packed the Coliseum on Friday: “I love you guys, thank you for the support, and we finally did it baby! We finally did it.”
Szydlowski’s relationship with the organization had been a bit frayed not long before. He was benched for three games in April, missed the final road trip of the regular season under mysterious circumstances (some say he was benched, others that he was injured after angrily punching something in the locker room), and when he returned to the lineup for Game 3 of the first round against Wichita, he’d been stripped of his alternate captaincy in favor of Justin Vaive.
Szydlowski acknowledged publicly that he had been poorly channeling dissatisfaction with his own play, and he repeatedly thanked the coaches and his teammates for sticking with him. Szydlowski rewarded them in the postseason by looking again like the player who led the league in scoring in 2017-18, when he was MVP and his team got to overtime of Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against the Colorado Eagles.
“There’s just so much character on this team,” Szydlowski said. “I can’t put it all into words, but I know I can’t say anything bad about these guys. Guys were in and out of the lineup, nobody was a distraction, everybody bought in. It’s pure ecstasy, pure joy right now, and that’s it.”
Szydlowski totaled four goals and 29 points in 35 regular-season games. If the Komets try to bring him back, it could be in a reduced role, capitalizing on his power-play skill (one goal, 15 assists with the man-advantage during the regular season). That wouldn’t be unlike what they did with former captain Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock, who was often the 10th forward in his final season.
The Komets are poised to lose some of their key players – including Brandon Hawkins, Randy Gazzola and Vaive – to ECHL teams who owned their rights before opting out of this season. Others, such as Playoff MVP Stephen Harper, Nellis and Nick Boka, should get interest from teams in the higher-level American Hockey League.
So keeping as many faces from this team as possible will probably be prioritized. If Szydlowski is among them will have to be figured out in short order; training camp is only three months away.
“I told Szyd before we started that we’re going to end this year with the championship and I want the first hug out of the pile. So I sprinted over there to make sure I got the first hug out of Szyd,” said coach Ben Boudreau, whose contract expires this summer.
“Somebody who’s given eight years of his life to this organization, for Szyd to finish this year on a high note like that, the guy deserves a jersey in the rafters and I couldn’t be any happier for a guy like him.”