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Szczechura gains confidence with new team

by Dave Whigham || AHL On The Beat Archive

szczechura_200.jpgWinston Churchill once wrote, "There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction."

After only five points in 29 games with the Iowa Stars to start the 2007-08 season, perhaps a change was all that center Paul Szczechura needed.

Since being acquired by Norfolk on Jan. 15, the Brantford, Ont., native has been on fire. Szczechura has at least one point in each of his first nine contests with the Admirals. Norfolk has a 5-2-1-1 record in those games – including a season-high seven-game points streak through Wednesday.

Szczechura (pronounced "sha-HER-a") is beginning to back up the numbers he posted at the end of last season with Iowa. Following the conclusion of his collegiate career at Western Michigan University, the marketing student signed an amateur tryout contract with the Stars. In his first taste of pro hockey, he posted three goals and four assists in 14 regular-season games and added three goals and an assist in 10 Calder Cup Playoff games.

Following the end of Iowa’s season, he wrapped up his bachelor of business administration degree.

The 5-foot-11, 190-pound rookie known as "Shuey" by his teammates may not have gotten off to the start he wanted this season with the Stars. But he has more than made up for that with the Admirals.

Since the trade, he has more than tripled his season point total in under a third of the amount of games. During his nine-game scoring streak, Szczechura has six goals and seven assists. He also had a goal in five straight games, tied for the third-longest such streak in the American Hockey League this season.

To what does Szczechura attribute to his drastic improvement in production?

"It’s all about confidence and getting a fresh start," said Szczechura. "Coach gave me a ton of opportunities to play early on and I took advantage of them. I’m getting a lot of ice time."

"Coach" is Admirals head coach Steve Stirling, who has been very impressed with how Szczechura has played in his new uniform.

"I told him when he came in that if he took care of his part, I will take care of mine in regards to playing time," said Stirling. "He’s a very responsible player on both sides of the ice. As a coach, it’s reassuring when he is on the ice. I don’t worry about much."

As a teenager on a major novice AAA team in Brantford, Szczechura played three seasons under the tutelage of Walter Gretzky, father of "The Great One" Wayne Gretzky, who was an assistant coach on the club. This is where he learned the importance of being positive on the ice.

"He’s a great inspiration," said Szczechura. "He was always in a good mood. Win or lose, he always brought a good atmosphere. He showed me that you couldn’t hang your head too much when you lose, but you can’t get overexcited when you win. It is just really important to stay positive."

Positive is all this 22-year-old has been since joining the Admirals.

In last weekend’s victories over Binghamton and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Szczechura was named first star in both games with a combined two goals and three assists.

His results on the ice speak for themselves, but it is his attitude in the locker room and outside of the rink that set him apart.

"Paul is one of those guys who says something if he needs to say it," said Stirling. "If he doesn’t need to say anything, then he lets his actions on and off the ice do the talking for him. He is well-schooled and very level-headed."

Winston Churchill would likely agree that the change from Iowa to Norfolk has been a good one for Szczechura and the Admirals. But there’s one thing that no one wants to change down the stretch: public address announcers and broadcasters around the American Hockey League double-checking their notes when pronouncing "sha-HER-a" for Norfolk goals.