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  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Shawn Szydlowski is looking to return to his roots by becoming more of a shooter than a playmaker this season.

Friday, October 13, 2017 1:00 am

Szydlowski the shooter

Goal scorer encouraged to possess puck more this season

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Shawn Szydlowski has earned the right to be a little selfish with the puck, having scored 119 goals in 277 games with the Komets.

The Komets, who struggled last season to finish off scoring chances, want him to be more possessive of the puck.

And Szydlowski promises to be a little more selfish, not pass up as many shots, and try to lead the Komets' offense when their 66th regular season opens Saturday at Memorial Coliseun against the Toledo Walleye.

“Over the last couple years, I've become a little bit more of a playmaker than a shooter and that's not really how I started out,” said Szydlowski, a right wing, who had 25 goals and 66 points in 50 games last season, then totaled two goals and nine points in 10 playoff games.

One of the knocks on the Komets, who had the fourth-best record in the league last season before beating Quad City and losing to Toledo in the postseason, was that they had too many playmakers and not enough finishers. They ranked sixth in the ECHL with 3.67 goals per game and were fourth with 34.39 shots per game, but those numbers don't begin to sum up the number of quality scoring chances that Fort Wayne failed to score on.

The Komets added finishers in the offseason, including Justin Hodgman, Dennis Kravchenko and Ralph Cuddemi, and they will have to pick up the slack with Mike Cazzola and Kyle Thomas no longer on the team.

Szydlowski, who is entering his fifth season with the Komets, wants to be a guy who assists on goals and scores them, too.

“I think I have the ability to do both but I started out being a shooter – I'm really confident in my shot – and I've got to get back to that,” said Szydlowski, 27. “We were a little bit too pretty last year at times and we've got to score a few more goals.”

It's always possible that Szydlowski gets called up to the American Hockey League, where he's played 18 games over the last three seasons with Binghamton, Cleveland and Norfolk, scoring only once, and he may even have a better chance to move up through the new affiliation with the NHL's Arizona Coyotes.

Szydlowski, who has totaled 286 points with the Komets, has focused on his off-ice conditioning regimen to keep him strong enough for the rigors of the ECHL season.

“For a guy like me, it's more about staying conditioned and working on that stuff away from the ice,” he said. “When you get to a certain age, you recognize the skills you have and you don't alter too much. You want to sharpen up some things but when you get into your 20s, you know the skill you have and you want to focus on a lot of the off-ice stuff.”

But on the ice, Szydlowski wants to focus as much as helping the team on the scoreboard as helping those around him feel like they're a part of the play. A good team, after all, doesn't care who scores as long as it wins.

“We had so much skill (last season) and guys knew what we were capable of and (all the passing was) also partly that we were so comfortable with each other, everyone was so close in the locker room, and we all wanted to be so nice to each other,” he said. “But sometimes that's not to the betterment of the team. If a guy shoots and scores, it's not like you're going to go complaining.”

Szydlowski is as close to a complete package as there is in the ECHL – he's shown speed, stick-handling, picturesque goals and a penchant for fighting – and the Komets need him to lead the offense if they're going to win their first championship since joining the ECHL in 2012.

“With all that skill (on our roster), and the ability to make all those plays, you should have the ability to score those goals and that's what we need to focus on,” he said.

jcohn@jg.net