Shawn Szydlowski has been dealing with back pain since he was in junior hockey more than a decade ago. It’s been amplified during his eight seasons with the Komets, but it hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of their all-time greats, winning ECHL MVP honors in 2017-18 and capturing his first Kelly Cup last season.
Now, it’s time to do something about the discomfort.
On Wednesday, Szydlowski, 31, will have surgery on his back – a microdiscectomy that will remove a portion of the disc causing him nerve pain – and he hopes that will allow him to continue his hockey career. Whether he’ll play again for the Komets is unclear.
“My main focus right now is just to come back pain-free, but my focus is also to play hockey again,” he said today. “I don’t have any plans of retiring just yet. I want to play another year, or two or three, however many I can, so that’s where my head is right now, and I’m just focusing on recovery for the next three months.”
Szydlowski is a free agent and could potentially sign with any team in the ECHL, or a team overseas, but he’s more focused on improving his quality of life away from the rink than determining a landing spot for when he’s back on skates. He’s been able to battle through sciatica pain and limited range of motion, but the rigor of so much hockey – he played 35 of 50 regular-season games and 9 of 13 playoff games last season – became too much to bear.
“This year was the first year in which I had a noticeable difference in just the overall functionality in my back. Specifically, any range of motion was pretty restricted this year. It’s mostly frustrating away from the rink,” said Szydlowski, who is coming off four goals and 29 points in the regular season, then two goals and 11 points in the playoffs.
“It’s pretty easy to get motivated to play games – it’s fun and what I love to do – but (it’s tough) when you wake up the next day at home with nothing to do, and you’re hurting and mainly feeling it getting out of bed, or you have to move around to even feel normal in the morning. It’s something I’ve been dealing with for years, obviously, but it gets harder and harder to do and quality of life outside of hockey is just the main thought in my mind at the moment.”
Szydlowski was the longest-tenured Komets player last season, but it’s possible he’s played his last game with the team. The Komets are going to see how Szydlowski feels when he’s cleared for skating with contact again, then they’ll see if there’s a spot for him. Other teams could do the same.
“Right now, it’s not our intention to sign him for next season,” general manager David Franke said, “but that could change. The bottom line is he needs to get the surgery, he’s going to have it (Wednesday), then it’s going to take awhile for his recovery and we’ll just have to see.”
Szydlowski is expected to be able to start skating on his own in six weeks, but it’ll be about three months before he’s fully recovered.
The Komets’ season opens Oct. 23 at Memorial Coliseum against the Wheeling Nailers. They have 12 players signed so far – including returning players Anthony Petruzzelli, Zach Pochiro, Oliver Cooper, Blake Siebenaler, Marcus McIvor and Stefanos Lekkas – though captain A.J. Jenks, 31, retired today.
“I haven’t, to be honest, thought too much about what’s happening with me next (season),” said Szydlowski, who has 168 goals and 460 points in 455 regular-season games with the Komets; 27 goals and 76 points in 77 playoff games; and is likely to have his number retired by the team someday.
“Fortunately, I’ve got to believe there would be someplace for me to play, hopefully Fort Wayne. But if not, I’m sure I can find a place to play again.”