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Ben Hasty | Reading Eagle
The Komets face the Reading Royals in Game 2 tonight in Reading, Pa. Fort Wayne has a 1-0 lead in the series after Shawn Szydlowski put in the game winner with 8.1 seconds remaining in Game 1.

Szydlowski learning mental side of game

– You may not recognize this Shawn Szydlowski, the one who hits a lot, the one who has become a pivotal player for the Komets, the one who scores the game-winning goal with 8.1 seconds left, as he did in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals Thursday night at Santander Arena.

Szydlowski understands this. He apologizes for the confusion. He can explain how it happened.

“As I learned when I first got into pro hockey, it’s 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical,” Szydlowski said. “If you are down on yourself, you’re just going to ruin your game. That’s been the biggest thing for me.”

The 2-1 victory over the defending champion Reading Royals was the kind of game that could put Szydlowski’s name back in the mind of NHL scouts. His goal was a thing of beauty. He won a race for the puck along the left boards with defenseman Mike Banwell, who fell down amid the battle. Szydlowski then waited for teammate Joe Hartman to attack the net, confusing the defense, before he snapped the puck past goaltender Brandon Anderson.

It was a play Szydlowski wouldn’t have made in December, when he was in a funk, not understanding how he had wound up in Fort Wayne after a prolific career in juniors (41 goals, 78 points with Erie his final season of 2010-11), which he parlayed into a contract with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.

Despite spending 62 games in the higher-level American Hockey League with Portland and Rochester between 2010 and 2013, tallying eight assists, he was no longer in the Sabres’ plans and sent to the Komets. Szydlowski went 21 games this season before scoring a goal, and he had only two assists in that span.

“I didn’t really come in with a lot of confidence because I came from the American League. It hurts anyone to be sent down and I was in a bad mindset,” said the 6-foot, 208-pound Szydlowski, who is from St. Clair Shores, Mich.

In January, Szydlowski came to the realization that he was killing his career. His contract expires at the end of this season and, even though he’s only 23, who’s going to want a guy who couldn’t even produce for a team that at the time was in the ECHL’s cellar?

“I thought, ‘You know, I’m not setting myself up for next year if I’m going to be like this,’ ” said Szydlowski, who totaled 12 goals and 25 points in his last 43 games.

He credits teammates for changing his attitude and salvaging his career.

“The guys here really picked me up and made me enjoy playing hockey,” he says. “It’s always good spirits around here. I got back in the right mindset, started working hard and playing the way I can.”

Szydlowski is no longer a player the opposition can ignore.

“You work hard, you are going to get confidence and that’s what happened,” he says.