Finding the answer

By Corine Gatti
NORFOLK, Va. – It is part of the life of an athlete. Being traded and packing up the suitcase to start over in an unfamiliar city is nothing new. Norfolk center Paul Szczechura experienced that last winter after being informed that the Iowa Stars traded him to the Norfolk Admirals. Shocked and disappointed, Szczechura turned his thinking around and his game around. “It was a little rough in the beginning when I found out and left Iowa [Stars],” Szczechura said. “It was around Christmas time and I knew I had to work harder.” Iowa had initially signed Szczechura to an Amateur Tryout Contract in March 2007 after finishing his collegiate career at Western Michigan University [CCHA]. He was signed to an American Hockey League Standard Player’s contract the following season. With that all behind him, Szczechura joined Norfolk undrafted and without an NHL contract.

But that didn’t last.

Szczechura’s destiny and career took a turn for the better. The Brantford, Ontario native tuned into his own offensive rhythm and adapted instantly to an Admirals jersey. The Southeast seemed to smile down on the rookie, notching seven goals in his first 10 games with Norfolk. The center tied the Admirals for third on the team with 14 goals, and finished the 2007-2008 campaign by scintillating fans with 26 points in 24 games.A two-year NHL contract with the Lightning soon followed in April. What deemed to be a setback, the trade paid dividends for both Tampa and Szczechura.

Change was good.

Admirals head coach Darren Rumble said that the prospect would get ample playing time. The first-year bench boss was excited about how far his prospect has come since his start mid-way through last season’s trade. “His ice time is well-earned,” Rumble said with assurance. “He has shown why he gets his ice time. He works hard. He plays 20 minutes and is playing on the first line.” His weakness may have been confidence at the start, but Rumble does not see that all. “He’s a leader, he’s more confident,” Rumble said. “It’s my gut feeling that he’ll get to the next level. I know he will.”

Szczechura notched eight points (3 goals, 5 assists) in his first seven games this season with Norfolk. He's earned time on the penalty kill and the power play, something he has vied to make himself more valuable on the ice. “Basically, I worked on being solid on defense and offense,” Szczechura said. “You have to be two-way player to be effective at both ends of the rink.”

Szczechura’s interesting story did not start after the Iowa trade. Back in Szczechura’s hometown of Brantford, young hockey players had an icon to look to – Brantford native Wayne Gretzky. Wayne’s father, Walter, coached Szczechura in his youth for three seasons. “I was on the peewee AAA team in Brantford and Walter was my assistant coach when I was a teenager. I think I was 13 or 14-years-old,” Szczechura said. “I learned a lot from Walter on the bench.” During that time, the youth met the “Great One” at practice. “Yeah, I met Wayne Gretzky,” Szczechura said is soft tone. “But we didn’t hang out or anything like that.”

Szczechura has no secret. He keeps it simple. “I just keep working hard and pushing,” Szczechura said. Change can be good.