Fort Wayne Komets lose ECHL Most Valuable Player Shawn Szydlowski to Norway

2016 - Fort Wayne’s Shawn Szydlowski pumps up the crowd after throwing down with Allen right winger Dyson Stevenson in the first period Sunday.
Komet Shawn Szydlowski goes through his warm-ups routine in front of his family, including his niece Ella. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)
Shawn Szydlowski
Fort Wayne's Shawn Szydlowski and Wichita's Nick Latta fought during the first period. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)
Shawn Szydlowski
Shawn Szydlowski
Shawn Szydlowski scores the Komets' fourth goal off a 2-on-1 late in the third period. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)
Shawn Szydlowski signs for a young fan after a recent game. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)
Shawn Szydlowski
Shawn Szydlowski is enraptured by his niece Ella who was born this summer. (Courtesy photo)
Shawn Szydlowski, front, and Bobby Shea grew up in Michigan dreaming of playing together. (By Blake Sebring of The News-Sentinel)

The Fort Wayne Komets are looking for a new face of the franchise.

ECHL Most Valuable Player and 2017-18 scoring leader Shawn Szydlowski has signed to play in Frisk Asker, Norway next season, joining Komets teammate Garrett Thompson. Szydlowski played the last five seasons in Fort Wayne, winning two team Most Valuable Player Awards and three times earning spots on the postseason all-league team.

“The team has been pretty consistently after me the last few years, and they expressed the most interest of any team this summer,” Szydlowski said. “I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just one of their other guys and it was a good situation. They were real high on me and expect me to be one of their better players. I also heard good things about the organization from past guys who played there when I checked them out.”

Szydlowski called Komets General Manager David Franke and coach Gary Graham on Tuesday to inform them of the decision and both wished him well.

“This is a guy who has been with me my entire tenure here as a head coach and to see his progression to becoming the ECHL leading scorer is kind of a Cinderella story,” Graham said. “He had a very slow start his first year and wavered in confidence, but when he got hot and really took his conditioning and training to the next level, he’s been a consistently top guy in the league.

“Let’s not be disappointed about this but let’s be excited for Shawn. He always knows Fort Wayne has open arms for him and we wish him the best.”

Franke told Szydlowski he supported the decision and was happy for the winger.

“I told him I am not mad, I am not totally surprised,” Franke said. “He’s just cashing in on MVP year. He realizes he’s not going to the AHL anymore, and he’s only got a few good years left and he wants to give this a try. I’m really, really happy for him. This is a good move for him. I thanked him for everything he has done for the franchise.”

During his five seasons in Fort Wayne, Szydlowski, 27, played 296 games with 130 goals, 320 points and 348 penalty minutes. He ranks among the franchise’s top 25 all-time in games played, goals, assists and total points.

An improved salary, Szydlowski said, was the main reason to play in Europe. Players can make significantly more money in Europe than they can in the ECHL due to the league’s salary cap.

“If there’s a possibility to be paid the same way in North American, I don’t think many guys would look to Europe,” Szydlowski said. “It’s really about the money and the age and the profession where we do have an age limit and it’s a tough job. I’m getting to the age where the body is not wanting to agree with you anymore, and you have to be practical at times how long you are going to last and then you have to find something else to do. That’s really it with the salary cap and all that. It’s impossible for them to pay the same. If they could, I’d stay there until I retired.”

Szydlowski battled back problems his last two seasons and had to miss a game in the Western Conference finals. He knows surgery will likely be necessary when he retires, but he’s hoping a lighter schedule in Europe will allow him to prolong his career. Last season Frisk Asker played 45 regular-season games compared to the Komets’ 72.

“We managed and they did all they could to keep me healthy,” he said. “It’s good enough to play still and right now it’s about getting strong and doing some physical therapy to make sure it doesn’t get any worse.”

Leaving the Komets and Fort Wayne is somewhat emotional, Szydlowski said.

“It’s definitely strange and almost doesn’t feel real yet,” he said. “Even when I get over to Europe and put on a different jersey, it will feel a bit odd even then. The city has been so good to me and my family. We have a hockey family, but even more than hockey, they just appreciated the team and the city and the way they took care of me and how happy I was. They got to experience it with me.”

Szydlowski’s parents, Steve and Denise, drove down from Michigan for almost every home game and quickly became a regular part of the fanbase waiting outside the Komets locker room, becoming friends with fans. They also are an example of where the class comes from that their son always shows.

“I owe the team the most the way they took care of me, but right up there are the fans and the way they treated me,” Szydlowski said. “I was able to enjoy my time because everyone was more friendly than just being fans. They made it easy, and I enjoyed interacting with the fans and the way they supported us all the time.”

He also thanked Komets management.

“I owe Dave and Gary the most,” Szydlowski said. “It started out as any other business relationship, but as long as I was there, it was just like family. I hug Dave when I see him, and Gary and I were that close, too.”

Though he’s leaving the Komets, Szydlowski said he’s not leaving the team or the city behind. He’ll be back this summer to march with the Komets in the Three Rivers Festival Parade, and he plans to return to watch games next spring after his season in Europe is over.

“I don’t know what would happen, but I’d like to retire as a Komet so who knows what will happen down the road,” Szydlowski said.

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