TAKE Ben O’Connor out of any team and the general consensus seems to be that that team will be worse off as a result.
The skilled defender was forced to withdraw early from Sheffield Steelers’ 5-1 win at home to Belfast Giants last week due to a hamstring injury and misses this weekend’s home and away double header against Cardiff Devils.
Steelers’ captain Jonathan Phillips acknowledged that O’Connor’s absence would be felt, but stressed the strength in depth on the Steelers’ bench this season means they will be able to cope.
Tonight sees the Steelers head to South Wales in the Challenge Cup, before making an early-morning return to host Andrew Lord’s side at Sheffield Arena in the league tomorrow (5pm).
The defending Elite League champions also go into the weekend without forward Levi Nelson once again.
“If you take a player like Ben O’Connor out of the team, you’re definitely going to miss him – he’s one of the best players in the league,” said Phillips. “He has that ability to find that crucial pass and possesses that bit of magic teams need to be successful.
“But we have got enough skilled players and depth for somebody to step in there in his place.”
O’Connor is a rare breeed among British players in that he has spent several years of his senior career playing abroad, first in France before spending three years in Kazakhstan.
“I think when he was abroad he just knuckled down and worked really hard and it showed in his game when he came back as he was an absolute dominant force,” added Phillips.
“I just remember that first weekend when he came back to play in the UK for us. It was then that I fully realised how good he was and he’s been dominant since he came here.”
Steelers head to South Wales looking to break even against the Devbils, who won 5-3 in the first Group B meeting between the two in South Yorkshire two weeks ago.
Since then, the Steelers have rebounded with three wins in the league, giving them a 100 per cent start to the defence of their fifth EIHL regular season title.
Head coach Paul Thompson confirmed on Friday night that teenage ‘apprentice’ Cole Shudra be housed with the Steelers this weekend to provide cover.
“We’ve decided to keep Cole with us this weekend,” said Thompson “We can use him in various situations as a swing guy and that’s a huge advantage that he can play in both a forward and a defensive position.
“We have a few bumps and bruises so it’s only right we use our whole bench and give Cole an opportunity to show us what he has at the higher level.”