WHEN Ben O’Connor hooks up with new team Leksands IF for their pre-season training camp at the start of August there will be no shortage of ambition from either side for the campaign ahead.
The former Sheffield Steelers’ defenceman will be heading over to Sweden in around five weeks to embrace a new challenge that he believes has come at the perfect moment in his career.
It follows three and a half successful years in South Yorkshire for the 29-year-old defenceman, who is no stranger to foreign surroundings having previously played in France and Kazakhstan.
It was to the former Soviet republic that O’Connor was, until three weeks ago, destined to return after landing a dream move to the Kontinental Hockey League at Barys Astana.
But a change in ownership saw O’Connor’s contract cancelled and the GB international looking for a new team.
The offer of remaining in Sheffield was a consideration, but O’Connor was keen to test himself elsewhere.
These next couple of years are huge for me and this kind of opportunity doesn’t come knocking every dayBen O’Connor
Last week Leksands – a team desperate to return to the Swedish top-tier SHL – offered him that opportunity.
“Last season was the best I’ve ever played and, right now, especially as a D-man, I’m in the prime of my career,” said O’Connor, who while finishing last season trophyless with the Steelers for the first time since joining in 2014, was their leading point-scorer.
“These next couple of years are huge for me and this kind of opportunity doesn’t come knocking every day – it wasn’t something I could turn down.”
O’Connor, who met a buy-out clause with his own cash in order to be allowed to leave with one year remaining on his Steelers’ contract, said he was keen to prove a valuable part of Leksands’s clearly-stated aim of returning to the SHL – regarded by some as second only to the NHL in terms of quality.
“Last year they missed out in the last game in terms of promotion,” he added. “So this is a big year and they need to be back up in the SHL. The coach wants me to be a part of that and I’m honoured to be a part of that.
“If the team does well and I’m a part of that success then, hopefully, it can only be a positive for both the team and myself.”