Sheffield Steelers lose best player to Kazakh giants
A crack team in Kazakhstan have snapped up Sheffield Steelers' brilliant defenceman Ben O'Connor.
The 29-year-old GB star will be released from a remaining one year contract to make his fortune with Barys Astana in the KHL.
Steelers will have to be compensated by Barys, whose rink capacity in the capital is 11,578.
It is a body blow for Steelers, but at least they have the consolation of knowing one of their players has been spotted by a Kazakh giant, while teenager Liam Kirk is going in the opposite direction...the NHL draft in north America.
Steelers have recently signed a GB-passport holding overseas pair in Brandon and Jackson Whistle, so will look to extend their import selection in replacing O’Connor.
The son of Steelers’ general manager Mike - and club top point scorer - had four seasons in Kazakhstan and can speak Russian.
“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime” said coach Paul Thompson.
“One the club couldn’t and wouldn’t stand in the way of.
“Ben and (owner) Tony Smith quickly agreed the terms of the move and whilst gutted that we will be losing one of our key players we wish him nothing but the best.”
He added: “The KHL is perhaps known as the second best league in the World after the NHL, the chance to play there is an incredible and deserved opportunity.
“We can look for a quality import defenceman to fill Ben’s place on the team.
“He will have to be a hell of a player because that is what we are losing in Ben.”