Shawn Szydlowski, one of the most decorated players in Komets history, is back.
The 31-year-old forward signed today for a ninth consecutive season with the team, on the heels of four months of wonderment over whether Szydlowski's had played his final game with Fort Wayne.
“Any time you can add a former league MVP to your roster, you have to take advantage of the opportunity, the difference is he comes into the season as a champion and knows what it takes to get to the top,” Komets coach Ben Boudreau said. “He's a threat every time he has the puck and can also add some grit to our lineup up front.”
Fans will still have to wait to see the ECHL's 2018 scoring champion and MVP back in action; he's headed straight to injured reserve to get his surgically repaired back ready for game contact. In the meantime, defenseman Corbin Baldwin, who had been out with a knee injury, has been activated and is set to make his Fort Wayne debut tonight against the Kalamazoo Wings in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Despite helping the Komets to the Kelly Cup championship – the first title of Szydlowski's career – last season was tumultuous for Szydlowski. He had four goals and 29 points in 35 regular-season games, but he was benched a couple of times and stripped of his alternate captaincy.
Szydlowski was contrite heading into the postseason and then productive, totaling two goals and 11 points in nine games. That included two goals and an assist in a 6-4 Game 3 victory over the South Carolina Stingrays in the finals, which Fort Wayne won 3-1.
After hoisting the Kelly Cup, Szydlowski stated he wanted to come back to Fort Wayne. The Komets, for their part, wanted to take a patient approach as they overhauled the roster, especially in light of Szydlowski's need for surgery on a back that had troubled him throughout his career.
He had a microdiscectomy to remove a portion of the disc causing him nerve pain on Aug. 18 and was cleared Nov. 11, ahead of schedule, to begin skating with contact.
“I'm just truly happy to be back doing what I love,” Szydlowski said. “I've always wanted to stay here and it hasn't been easy to navigate with postseason surgery. But I felt like a kid (Tuesday) when this came to fruition, could barely sleep, and was more than excited to be with the guys again.
“Also, you hear guys say how winning a championship only fuels that desire even more. Now that we've had that experience, I want nothing more than to do it all again this year."
The Komets can only have four veterans in their lineup and currently have five on their roster – Connor Jones, Kellen Jones, Zach Tolkinen, Baldwin and Szydlowski – even after the team released Jamie Milam on Tuesday. The Komets can continue to carry five veterans, but only if one is on IR.
The Komets have a need for a player of Szydlowski's ilk, since call-ups and injuries have left them bereft of forwards. Szydlowski has 168 goals and 460 points in 455 regular-season games with the Komets, plus 27 goals and 76 points in 77 playoff games.
The Komets play host 7:30 p.m. Thursday to the Toledo Walleye in the annual Bob Chase Memorial Game, named after the team's longtime broadcaster, who died in 2016. The Komets will wear 1985-86 throwback jerseys that'll be auctioned off in the Memorial Coliseum lobby to benefit WOWO's Penny Pitch recipient: GiGi's Playhouse Fort Wayne, a down syndrome achievement center. Toledo will wear Goaldiggers throwback jerseys.
Baldwin, 30, played 28 games last season with the Kansas City Mavericks and had one assist and 32 penalty minutes. He played from 2018 to 2020 in England for the Guildford Flames.
The Komets plan to present Brandon Hawkins and Randy Gazzola, who helped the Komets to the Kelly Cup, their championship rings before Thursday's game. Hawkins and Gazzola now play for Toledo.