Shawn Szydlowski has struggled with back pain since he played junior hockey more than a decade ago. It was reinforced during his eight seasons with the Komets, but it didn’t stop him from becoming one of their greats, winning the 2017-18 ECHL MVP honors and winning his first Kelly Cup last season.
Now is the time to do something about the discomfort.
On Wednesday, Szydlowski, 31, will have a back operation – a microdiscectomy that will remove part of the disc that is causing him nerve pain – and hopes it will help him continue his hockey career. It is unclear whether he will play for the Komets again.
“My main focus right now is getting back pain free, but my focus is also getting back to playing hockey,” he said today. “I have no plans to retire yet. I want to play for another year or two or three, as much as I can, so I’m just in my head and just concentrating 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 outside of the rink than determining a landing spot when he’s back on skates. He could struggle with sciatic pain and restricted mobility, 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 endure.
“This year was the first year in which I only had a noticeable difference in the overall functionality in my back. In particular, the freedom of movement was quite restricted this year. It’s usually frustrating outside the stadium, ”said Szydlowski, who has four goals and 29 points in the regular season, then two goals and 11 points in the playoffs.
“It’s pretty easy to motivate yourself to play games – it’s fun and what I love to do – but (it’s tough) when you wake up at home the next day and have nothing to do, and you’re hurt and most of all, you realize that it comes out in bed, or you need to move around to feel normal in the morning at all. I’ve been dealing with it for years, of course, but it’s getting more and more difficult and the quality of life outside of hockey is just the main thought at the moment. “
Szydlowski was the longest-serving Komets player last season but it is possible that he played his last game with the team. The comets will see how Szydlowski feels when he is released to skate with contact, then they will see if he has a place. Other teams could do the same.
“At the moment it is not our intention to sign him for the next season,” said General Manager David Franke, “but that could change. The bottom line is that he needs surgery, he will have it (Wednesday), then it will take a while to recover and we just have to see. “
Szydlowski is expected to be able to start skating on his own in six weeks, but it will take about three months to fully recover.
The season of the comets begins on October 23rd at the Memorial Coliseum against the Wheeling Nailers. They have signed 12 players so far – including returnees Anthony Petruzzelli, Zach Pochiro, Oliver Cooper, Blake Siebenaler, Marcus McIvor and Stefanos Lekkas – although captain AJ Jenks, 31, retired today.
“To be honest, I haven’t thought too much about what will happen to me in the next (season),” said Szydlowski, who scored 168 goals and 460 points in 455 regular season games with the Komets; 27 goals and 76 points in 77 playoff games; and probably one day his number will be withdrawn from the team.
“Fortunately, I have to believe that there would be a place for me, hopefully in Fort Wayne. But if not, I am sure that I can find a place to play again. “