We all love our stars, don’t we? Our heroes.
Last week we all lost a great one in Muhammad Ali. We all loved him, didn’t we?
My hero as a kid was Barry Sheene. In fact, he is still my hero. I love the bloke to bits. It’s the same for Steeler fans. Only on Tuesday I was at a schools event with some of the Steelers’ players – the kids look up and see this giant of man in Zack Fitzgerald. They look in awe at the big Steelers defensemen.
We are lucky to have the two superstars of the British game in our ranks and they are heroes to many of the young fans that flock to Sheffield Arena.
Robert Dowd and Ben O’Connor are genuine giants of the game - in my opinion, the best forward and the best defensemen in the Elite League - and they are here in Sheffield, both Steelers.
When Dowdy gets the puck and skates, the crowd move to the edge of their seat. Something is going to happen. His speed is like lightning, quick hands and a ripper of a shot – he is a shooter, he is Bobby Charlton on skates.
Ben O’Connor is different to any other British D-man in the league. He has four eyes and doesn’t wear glasses; two in the front of his head and two in the back. His vision, his ability to see a pass and then make a pass that no-one else can, stands him out.
When they score, they connect with us. Dowdy will skate and jump into the glass by the fans - they go crazy for it. Benny will stand there with his arms raised, a touch of Cantona arrogance maybe.
“Did you see that, that was me.” We love it, we lap it up.
Drive down the Parkway and it’s odds on that the Steelers advert on the big electronic screen will have a photo of one of the golden couple on it. Young, good looking and highly talented. In this sport of predominantly import players from the States, Canada and Sweden, these two stand out as our own and they are here in Sheffield. Both Steelers.
The fans know the difference as well. They love all the players but they have an affinity with the Brits. Look at the love shown to Jason Hewitt over the last few years before his retirement.
Last year I took a young Steelers fan into the dressing room to meet the boys for his birthday. Uncontrollably, he just cried out: ‘It’s Dowdy’ as his eyes met his hero. ‘That’s right, it is’ Dowd replied, walking over to high-five his admirer.
On another night I introduced Ben to a couple of young brothers invited down to meet the boys – I turned my back for one minute and they’d gone. In most sports the player would give a handshake or sign an autograph. Benny had took the two boys from the room to the ice so they could see the team bench and sit on it. Little things that make heroes in people’s eyes. When I caught up with them the three of them, were just sat there. Hanging out.
They say never meet your heroes but if your heroes are Benny and Dowdy I say no, meet them. Because they are better in real life than even you imagine.
Messrs O’Connor and Dowd are not only two of the best players in the Elite League, but two of the best people. And they are here in Sheffield, both Steelers.
See them both back on the ice for the first time on August 13 and 14 when the Steelers take on Aalborg Pirates ahead of the Champions Hockey League games in Sweden and Austria.