The remarkable story behind Ben O'Connor's World Championship

He was the Sheffield player that fans back home probably worried about most.

Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 12:13 pm
Great Britain's Ben O'Connor. Picture: Dean Woolley

How on earth would Ben O'Connor fare for Great Britain against some of the world's best skaters when he'd hardly had any recent game-time preparation?

O'Connor had elected not to play in the five-week EIHL mini series, citing family responsibilities.

The 32-year-old had left Steelers at the end of the Covid-shortened 2019-20 campaign and his only competitive ice hockey since that time had been with NIHL club Sheffield Steeldogs.

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Jonathan Phillips and Matt Myers

He had the skills, but what about his match-sharpness?

O'Connor's GB team-mates predicted it wouldn't take him long to get up to speed in the rarefied atmosphere of the World Championships in Latvia.

And the statistics behind his displays prove their faith was justified - and also illustrate how much coaches Adam Keefe and Corey Neilson relied on his presence, quarter-backing from defence.

Of the eight Sheffield players who took to the Riga ice, no one played more than O'Connor - whose future in British ice hockey next season is currently unknown.

O'Connor played 193 shifts in the Worlds - that equated to 134.25 minutes over seven games.

Overall his time on the pad averaged 19 minutes and 12 seconds per game.

Considering his lack of match-fitness at the start of the competition, it was a phenomenal contribution.

As well as defending, the skater came second only to Sheffield's NHL prospect Liam Kirk in the number of shots on goal.

Kirk, who scored a dizzying seven goals and two assists, slapped in 19 shots, yet O'Connor was only three behind him.

GB are a growing force in world hockey, but of course they are not at the level of some of the other countries in the Championships.

And they shipped in more goals than they would like, an issue which, of course, featured in the plus-minus data released by the IIHF.

The Sheffield contingent, in that category, was led by evergreen skipper Jonathan Phillips.

He emerged with a neutral (zero) mark; so he was on the ice for as many goals-for as he was goals-against.

Then came Matt Myers and Sam Jones (-1) Davey Phillips (-4) O'Connor (-5) Kirk (-6) Brendan Connolly (-7) and Robert Dowd (-10.)

Dowd was the Sheffield party's top goal provider, with three assists over the seven matches.

The GB skater who was on the ice more than any other was Cardiff Devils' Mark Richardson with 150.27 minutes.