"Catching Up With ..." will keep you in touch with the Admirals over the long summer months. A new player or hockey operations staff member will be interviewed each week.
norfolkadmirals.com catches up with #12 Paul Szczechura today. Szczechura (pronounced “sha-HER-uh”) exploded for more than a point-per-game during his time with the Admirals last season. He was traded from Iowa in mid-January and put up points in his first ten games as an Admiral – the longest point streak by a Norfolk Admirals rookie ever and the fourth-longest streak in Norfolk franchise history. Szczechura ended up scoring 14 goals and 12 assists for 26 points in just 24 games. He led all Norfolk rookies in scoring and tied for the overall team lead with three game-winning goals. He did all of that despite playing in just over a quarter of Norfolk’s games. On April 24, Szczechura inked his first NHL contract by signing a two-year deal with the Admirals’ NHL parent club, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
How has your summer been?
My summer has been going really well. I am currently living in Brantford, Ontario, but I go to Chicago a lot to visit my girlfriend and other friends. I have been training hard to get ready for the upcoming season. Besides that, I play a ton of golf, which takes up a lot of my time. I also go fishing the odd time and play some pickup hockey once in a while. I like to relax in the summers and sleep in as much as possible.
You signed your first NHL contract two months ago. What was that experience like?
Signing my first NHL contract was really exciting. However, it is only a big stepping stone in fulfilling my ultimate goal. It did feel really good though to know that all my hard work over the years is starting to pay off.
In 29 games for Iowa to start 2007-08, you had two goals and five points. In January, you're traded to Norfolk and you put up 14 goals and 26 points in just 24 games as an Admiral. What happened to spark that dramatic increase in production?
A lot of times in life it's all about opportunity. I was in a tough situation in Iowa not being on a Dallas contract and it was hard to produce points when you don’t get the opportunities. Although I played 29 games, I didn't see much power play time and a lot of my shifts were designated to stopping the other team’s top lines. Coming to Norfolk gave me a fresh start and a great opportunity to prove that I could be a top player in the league. I have put up good numbers all my life and I feel I just needed an opportunity to prove myself.
You are a native of Brantford, Ontario - the home of Wayne Gretzky. But I also see that Brantford is the home of Lightning forward Chris Gratton and Lightning goaltending coach Jeff Reese. Is it fair to say that with your new contract there might be a few Tampa Bay Lightning jerseys worn around Brantford? Did you know Gratton or Reese prior to joining the Lightning organization?
I don’t know if the Lightning jerseys will sit too well with all the Leafs fans around here! Actually, I met Chris Gratton last summer for the first time and I do not personally know Jeff Reese. I skate with Chris a few times a week throughout the summer though.
Your previous experiences with Walter Gretzky (Wayne's dad) have been discussed before, as he was one of your coaches for a few years while you were growing up. Have you spoken to Walter Gretzky recently?
I have not seen Walter too much this summer but I saw Wayne recently at a restaurant in town.
What are your plans for the rest of the summer?
I'm just going to continue to get in shape and try to improve my golf game. I also have a few trips down south planned, which should be pretty relaxing.
What are your goals for 2008-09?
My short terms goals are to first have a really good training camp and hopefully prove I can play in the NHL. Other than that, I want to start this year off the same way I ended last season, which I believe will give me a good chance to play in Tampa. I don’t want to start 2008-09 the way I started last year.