When I was a kid I always wanted to be Barry Sheene. Be his team mate, ride alongside him, win races, beat Kenny Roberts. It’s what I dreamed of, if the truth be known I still do.
When Ben O’Connor was kid he dreamed of following in his hero’s footsteps as well. His hero was his dad, Steeler Mike O’Connor.
Ben used to scream with the rest of the fans when the Arena went to black out and the Steelers entered the ice. He cheered all the players but especially his old man. After the game he would join up with Dad in the dressing room for the banter with the likes of Tommy Plommer, Tim Cranston and Ron Shudra.
He had the replica shirts, the posters on his wall. His dream was to be a Steeler, just like his Dad.
On game days he would come down to pre game skate, then after the players had left the ice he would put on his own skates and skate around with his Dad. As he made his way around the arena ice his mind would wander, in his head he was a Steeler, skating down the wing, taking that big slap shot and scoring the game winner against the Panthers. That was his dream, to be a Steeler.
As a young kid he left home, went to live with his Uncle so he could develop his game in the States, he returned years later to play for the likes of Edinburgh and Coventry even playing at the Arena against the Steelers. He spent a year in France not afraid to explore the hockey world in order that he could become the best player he could. He made the National side, got scouted by a team in Kazakhstan and went on to set scoring records for a D man in that league. He logged on to the Steelers site every day, in whatever country he was in. Watched the web broadcasts, downloaded the highlights, why wouldn’t he. He was a Steelers fan and he still had a dream.
Last Saturday that dream came true. Now 25, an experienced professional hockey player, an international hockey player Ben O’Connor became a Steeler. His dream did come true. “I can’t believe how nervous I was stood in the tunnel when it went to black out” he said “I remember being in the stands at just that moment before Dad and the team skated out and now here I was in the same spot he used to be
“I got goose bumps when my name was read out, I was in dreamland, I was a Steeler and I loved it”
The Steelers will try and find a way I am sure of keeping Ben in Sheffield though the reality is that the league where he has made his name can pay significantly more. That league can also promote and project Ben on to even bigger things such as the KHL.
I’ve known Ben since he was knee high, followed his career and looked out for his achievements.
Until he returned for this spell I never knew just how much he craved for the day he would skate out wearing the Steelers uniform. That he wanted it as badly as he did made me even more proud of him, of the Steelers and of his old man who bleeds the Orange of this club too. I’d love Benny to stay and sign long term for us. For him and Dowdy to be the future for the next decade of Steelers success. It’s unlikely but hey I can dream, too, can’t I?
I may have never got that ride alongside Barry Sheene but I may get to see Ben O’Connor as a long term Steeler.