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  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Komets' Cody Sol prepares to pass the puck to a teammate during the Fort Wayne Komets vs. Utah Grizzlies hockey game at the Memorial Coliseum on Sunday. GALLERY

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Komets' Gabriel Desjardins, left, tries to make his way to the puck after getting knocked down by Utah Grizzlies players during the Fort Wayne Komets vs. Utah Grizzlies hockey game at the Memorial Coliseum on Sunday. GALLERY

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Komets' Gabriel Desjardins, right, tries to get the puck away from Utah Grizzlies' Ralph Cuddemi during the Fort Wayne Komets vs. Utah Grizzlies hockey game at the Memorial Coliseum on Sunday. GALLERY

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Komets' Garrett Thompson, right, tries to push the puck away from Utah Grizzlies' Taylor Richart during the Fort Wayne Komets vs. Utah Grizzlies hockey game at the Memorial Coliseum on Sunday. GALLERY

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Komets' Jamie Schaafsma, right, tries to get the puck away from Utah Grizzlies' C.J. Eick during the Fort Wayne Komets vs. Utah Grizzlies hockey game at the Memorial Coliseum on Sunday. GALLERY

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Komets' Gabriel Desjardins tries to get to the puck as Grizzlies' C.J. Eick, top and Travis Howe try to block him during the Fort Wayne Komets vs. Utah Grizzlies hockey game at the Memorial Coliseum on Sunday. GALLERY

Sunday, December 04, 2016 6:20 pm

Szydlowski promises big night, delivers for K's

Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette

Shawn Szydlowski wanted a goal. And he wanted it in a victory.

That didn’t make Sunday’s game much different than any other, but there was more to it at Memorial Coliseum. One of the Komets’ biggest fans, Jon Shepler, a kid Szydlowski has gotten to know well during his four seasons here, has been in the hospital and the team’s two-time MVP wanted to do something for him.

While he promised he’d do his best to put the puck in the net, Szydlowski did so much more. He scored twice – including a magnificent penalty shot – and set up two other goals in a 4-2 victory over the Utah Grizzlies.

To top it off, Szydlowski got ejected just after putting Fort Wayne up 4-0. Utah’s Travis Howe incited a fight with Dan Milan and Szydlowski then shot Howe’s elbow pad into the stands, earning a game misconduct from referee Lucas Martin.

“This is the first time I’ve wanted to do something like (score for someone). Obviously, this was for Jon Shepler in the hospital,” Szydlowski said. “I knew he would have liked to have seen me score tonight. So that’s what I wanted to do, at least get him one and have it come in a win.”

Shepler, 16, who lives in Churubusco, has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder that causes muscle degeneration and weakness.

“He’s one of our biggest fans,” Szydlowski said. “He’s already had some tough times in life and he’s never let it keep him down. The family is going through a tough thing and I’m just happy to do this for them. I know he would have been here tonight if he could have been.”

To put Szydlowski’s game into perspective, he came in averaging more than a point per game but, in what’s become a rarity, he wasn’t leading the team in scoring. He was one goal and three points behind Kyle Thomas and had only one 3-point game previously this season – on opening night.

That all changed against the Grizzlies (7-13-2), who were swept by Fort Wayne (11-5-2) in last season’s playoffs and have lost eight consecutive games.

Szydlowski got an assist on the game’s first goal, 6:22 into the first period, when forward David Friedmann got to the rebound of his own shot and sent a backhand off defenseman Mike Banwell and into the net.

After getting pulled down from behind by forward Mathieu Aubin, while the Komets were playing short-handed, Szydlowski got a penalty shot 53 seconds into the second period. He dragged the puck to his left, his right and back to his left before putting a backhand just beneath the crossbar for a 2-0 lead.

It was the Komets’ first penalty shot since March 23 vs. Wheeling, when Szydlowski failed to score in a 1-0 victory. It was the first time they’ve scored on a penalty shot since the 2012 playoffs, when Mike Vaskivuo beat Wichita’s Bryan Hogan in the Central Hockey League.

Szydlowski would go on to set up Trevor Cheek for a power-play goal from the right circle and score from 20 feet out in front of 6,934 fans, who saw Cody Sol fight Alexandre Carrier twice, Will Weber scrap with Sam Windle and the teams rack up 19 minor penalties.

“I thought we had some good jump and I really like the fact that when the shenanigans started, we’ve got plenty of guys to answer the bell. That’s great to see, especially in front of our crowd, and it was good to get a power-play goal because our power play has been struggling lately … and it was good to get our confidence going,” said coach Gary Graham, whose Komets were coming off Friday’s 6-5 overtime victory over Missouri, which had a four-goal lead in the third period.

Szydlowski said he felt “a little bit of pressure to score, but the good kind. It was motivation more than pressure.”

Goalie Eric Hartzell stopped 27 of 29 shots, though he gave up goals to Carrier at 17:02 of the third and Erik Higby with less than a second remaining on a power play. Faragher stopped 29 of 33 shots.

Defenseman Bobby Shea played for the first time since Nov. 11 – he served a three-game suspension for actions in a fight and four following appendix surgery – and the play rival Toledo at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in Ohio.

jcohn@jg.net