Simmsey column: This might not sound like it - but this is fantastic news...

Ben O'Connor to the KHL, Liam Kirk to the NHL '“ how brilliant is that.

Wednesday, 23rd May 2018, 3:13 pm
Ben O'Connor

Yes I know wearing our Steelers’ hat we would prefer them to stay and wear our colours for the next decade but think about it. Two of our boys leading the way at different stages of their careers. It’s brilliant for the Steelers, the EIHL and the game as a whole.

Now as I type this the news has only just broken and I see panic on social media – people breath! There is no panic! Let me explain how the club has covered all bases.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Firstly to those saying Ben has a contract we shouldn’t let him leave. Don’t be daft. This is an opportunity of a lifetime, the money involved is five times more than the Steelers could ever pay and this is a chance to play in the KHL. Would you want to be the one that stands in his way?

The club and the player negotiated the way out of the contract to everyone’s satisfaction. The Steelers and Ben remain on top terms with one another and wish each other all the best.

Now normally when a club loses a top player, especially a British player who is pretty much irreplaceable then we panic, you panic and we all panic. This time though it’s different.

Paul Thompson covered all the bases both with Liam and Benny. The club have known about this potential move for a while and in the signing of Jackson and Brandon Whistle last week, we covered ourselves.

Sheffield Steelers and GB defenceman, Ben O'Connor. Picture: Dean Woolley.

A little like we did earlier today in signing another top not young British player Jordan Griffin, the GB U16s captain. A backfill if you like of home grown talent. So over the past few weeks you can see that lots has been going on, just a lot of things we couldn’t tell you about.

The good news is though that the club remained one step ahead and had the bases covered.

On Benny: wow what a move. I love the bloke to bits and will be super sad to see him leave, however as a good friend I couldn’t be happier for him. Whilst I will miss him massively I wish him every ounce of good fortune and luck.

Also as explained above this doesn’t damage the Steelers as much as it could have done with the signings already made. Now we can move forward and sign an import as the Ben replacement as we have already signed a Brit as the ‘Moose’ replacement. Get my drift. Good. Let’s move on.

Kieran Brown and Jordan Griffin

As just mentioned the apprentice programme the Steelers started back in 2016 with the signings of Liam Kirk and Cole Shudra continues with the signing of Griffin.

Jordan is a big defenceman starting his journey as a professional hockey player. He will be training with the Steelers daily and a member of the squad taking part in the pre season games.

He may make the team but it’s likely that he will follow the pathway of Liam, Cole and more recently Kieran Brown in being loaned to another side to gain his playing minutes.

I love it that our club is leading the way with this programme, we want the best British players playing here in Sheffield. Sure young Liam will be leaving us for the bright lights we hope this summer but we have long term plans for the likes of Cole, Kieran and now Jordan.

The Steelers have also made a few other signings but right now they are going to stay undraped, at least for a while yet. Daily progress is being made, we had to find a way around the obstacles thrown in front of us but we have navigated around them very, very well I think you would agree. Now lets finish the job.

This morning when I woke and thought ahead to this article I thought the 11 team league and the removal of conferencing would be the subject matter – then the Ben news broke 48 hours ahead of what had been agreed so that has taken over.

To summarise the EIHL Board Meeting yesterday, next year’s Elite League will be with 11 clubs after Edinburgh Capitals folded after not being awarded an ice time contract for Murryfield Ice Rink. There was an alternative with new owners for that club but the league decided against it and we move forward with 11.

This means the end of conferencing but not conferences – I will explain. The league now moves to a one league, all 11 teams together with 3 games at home and 3 away (opposed to the old 4 home and away in conference and 2 home and away out of conference)

A lot of people whilst disappointed to lose Edinburgh will welcome the move away from conferencing – I am not one of those people. Conferencing saved our league, helped the smaller clubs with less travel costs and more local fixtures, especially in Scotland. In Sheffield we have had to accept this decision and now start planning for the 11 team division.

As a separate completion the conferences will still exist, so at the end of the year there will be a trophy for the conference winners but the points will be taken from these in league play. Get it? Hope so.

More next week when it’s a little calmer.