O’Connor flew back to South Yorkshire on Saturday morning after cutting short his time with Swedish club Leksands IF for personal reasons. He will be in the line up for the Steelers when they host arch-rivals Nottingham Panthers at Sheffield Arena (7pm).
The 29-year-old Great Britain international, who helped the national team win a gold medal and promotion to next year’s ‘Pool A’ World Championships, returns to a Steelers team struggling to compete in the early part of the 2018-19 season.
Paul Thompson, who was head coach when O’Connor left the club in the summer, has since resigned and been replace by two-time Stanley Cup winner Tom Barrasso.
Going into Saturday’s encounter with current Elite League leaders Nottingham, the Steelers sit second-bottom in the standings but, according to Phillips, the return of O’Connor should help turn the team’s fortunes around.
“I’m over the moon that Ben is coming back,” said Phillips, who has spent the majority of his Steelers career partnering O’Connor on the blue line.
“I thought once the season had started – actually probably before the season had even started – that we were going to miss him. He’s that kind of top British player who are always very hard to replace.
“We’ve been together playing alongside each other for a long time now, not just here but with GB too, and he’s somebody I really enjoy playing alongside. I feel we work well together and complement each other’s games too.
“Ben’s quite an offensively-minded player, so I try to let him do his thing and get the puck to him as much as possible.”
One aspect of Steelers’ play which Phillips is convinced O’Connor will improve, is the team’s limp power play, which is ranked last overall in the EIHL with a success rate of just over nine per cent It is a stark contrast to last season when, with O’Connor a key component, the Steelers were second overall – behind only double winners Cardiff Devils – with a 23.2 per cent conversion rate
Last season, O’Connor hit eight goals on the powerplay as part of a 20-goal haul which contributed to the 66 points he eventually posted, ending the campaign as the Steelers’ top overall points scorer.
“He’ll definitely help the power play, and that needs help at the moment,” added 31-year-old Phillips, now in his third season with the Steelers. “He’s got a big shot on him and he’ll be helping us score a few more goals which is something we need a lot of help with.
“He was one of our leading points scorers last season and, even though he’s a defenceman, he’ll be setting up other guys to score as well as banging a few in himself.”