Paul Szczechura was arguably one of the best players on the Rochester Americans this season, also earning a call-up to the Sabres for nine games. Now, he’s taking his talents to the KHL, as he signed a one-year contract with HC Lev.
After spending the better part of his hockey career in North America, the 26-year-old is heading to Prague – but he has no regrets about his time with the Sabres and Amerks organization, and wants to make sure everyone knows that his decision to play overseas says nothing against either team.
“I had a great time,” Szczechura said. “I was treated really well at both sides, Buffalo and Rochester. I really have no complaints. I got an opportunity in Buffalo, which I really wanted to do. I was treated with a lot of respect.”
Szczechura’s decision isn’t an unfamiliar one; he had the option to play in the KHL for the past three years, but elected to stay in North America. This time around, he chose to pursue the opportunity.
“My agent let me know there was an opportunity, and I looked into it really hard and decided this was the best way to go at this point in my career,” Szczechura said.
He stressed that the contract is just a one-year deal and that the future beyond that is undetermined, as he hasn’t looked that far ahead just yet.
“I don’t want to close any doors,” he said. “I want to keep all my options open.”
The news of Szczechura’s signing came just hours after Sabres GM Darcy Regier reported that the team would qualify all of its restricted free agents. Although he belongs to the KHL for at least the next year, Szczechura said he would consider coming back to Buffalo in the future.
“I was given a great amount of ice time, I played well, and I had a good year,” he said. “It was fun.”
Although he’s never been to Prague, Szczechura said he’s heard great things about the city and isn’t too concerned about playing in the KHL, on a team that last season was composed mainly of players from the Czech Republic.
“Obviously, you see players that go over there; some succeed, some have a hard time,” he said. “I’m going over there with an open mind. I’m just going to try to play my game and do the best I can. I don’t want to put too much pressure on anything or look too hard into it.”
Szczechura said that in the earlier part of his hockey career, the KHL never crossed his mind, but after hearing of the opportunities overseas for the past several years, he finally decided to go for it.
He also said that the possibility of an NHL lockout is in the back of his mind, but didn’t play a major factor in his decision.
“It’s going to be an experience for me [playing over in Europe],” he said. “I’m going over there for a reason: to play hockey. I’ll go over there with that mindset and play with that mindset.”
Szczechura played 57 games with Rochester this year, accruing 46 points (21-25) in that stretch. His impressive play, combined with a number of injuries on the Buffalo Sabres, led him to suit up in the blue and gold for nine games, during which he had a goal and three assists. Although he won’t be here next season, the forward said he thinks the organizations have great years ahead, particularly with the young guys they’ve brought in.
To Sabres and Amerks fans, ‘Chewy’ had this to say: “Thanks for all the support. I had a great year, it was fun; it was a great organization to be a part of. Being so close in Buffalo and Rochester, there was always support from both angles, both areas. It was a great situation to be a part of.”