Ben O’Connor put his heart before his head today and signed a surprise long-term contract with Sheffield Steelers.
It is an extraordinary coup for the club. And at a time when most professional sportsmen put cash before everything else it’s also a tribute to one young man’s attachment to his boyhood club.
O’Connor will now remain with the club for the three seasons.
So far, on ice, the 25-year-old son of Steelers executive Mike has shown mobility, courage, defensive strength and an eye for a point - he recorded seven in four outings as a ‘temporary’ Steeler.
His stick-handling is exceptional at times, as is his positional awareness. He can play on the left or the right and dovetails perfectly with Dustin Kohn.
O’Connor had been released nine games into the season at Arlan Kokshetau in Kazakhstan. It was a strange decision given the GB international scored 7+5 in nine games and was the Kazakh’s League biggest scoring d-man last term.
Coach Gerad Adams had expected him to go to one of a string of Russian suitors, saying in Saturday’s programme he didn’t know how long he could ‘keep hold of him.’
But the player explained: “I arrived here thinking how great it would be to put a Steelers shirt on for a weekend.
“As soon as I walked into the dressing room of the club I supported as a kid, the same team that my Dad played for, I realised that I’d like to make this more than a weekend, I want to be a Steeler. I always have.
“There is an unbelievable atmosphere in the room in fact I’d go as far as saying this is the best dressing room I’ve been in.
“Guys get on so well off the ice that it makes things easier on the ice.
“I know this wasn’t an easy move for the club, their budgets were spent and then all of a sudden I came into the mix.
“I have been so impressed with the whole club though, the Steelers have moved forward so much since I’ve been away.
“This is a well run organisation that I want to be a part of, long term.
“I’ve played in different countries in great leagues but Steelers are my team and I want to play a part in winning things here”
Adams said: “I’m lucky to have a great player wanting to play here and an owner who made this deal happen. It’s a fantastic signing for us.
“Firstly we are a better and deeper side with Ben in it.
“Looking forward we are also making sure that with the likes of Rob Dowd and Ben we continue to put great, exciting teams on the Arena ice.
“We are showing our fans and sponsors that we are serious about being a strong hockey club today and tomorrow.
“Ben is composed and skilful, he sees the ice so so well and can make great plays. He has fitted in here.”
The coach added: “From moment one we all wanted Ben to stay but wondered if it was possible. It has been pretty impressive to see everyone in the club just work harder to find a way it was possible. It’s what makes this club different to so many others”
Owner Tony Smith concluded negotiations with Ben just before Saturday’s 4-1 win over Hull.
“This was perhaps the easiest and hardest signing we have ever had to do all wrapped up in one” said Smith.
“Everyone here wanted Ben to remain with us. Firstly he is a great player but there was also the emotional pull as well. We are a family club, all my family work here.
“Steelers have historically been a tight knit family of players, management and fans who have experienced good and bad times together. Ben’s father, Mike is an outstanding member of this club, first as a player and then as a GM and commercial manager.
Ben started his hockey life off in Sheffield being bought up as the son of a great Steeler. Now it’s his time to shine and be a great Steeler just like his Dad.
“Making this deal happen at this time of the year has been hard but Ben showed his commitment to us by taking a salary drop from what he could earn in Russia. We did everything we could to present him with a deal that make it possible for him to put down roots once again in Sheffield and become a long time Steeler. When the owner, the coach and the player all walk out of the room equally as happy that a deal has been concluded then you know its a good deal for the Sheffield Steelers. A good deal for today and a good deal for tomorrow.”