O'Connor seals Swedish move as Martinelli bolsters Sheffield Steelers' defensive options

AS much as Sheffield Steelers will have been delighted to keep Ben O'Connor next season, the reality was that the GB international's future would lie elsewhere.

NEW FACE: Ryan Martinelli has made the switch from Belfast Giants to Sheffield Steelers.

The offer was on the table for O'Connor to remain in South Yorkshire after his move to KHL outfit Barys Astana was cruelly snatched away from him two weeks ago but, wisely, the 29-year-old defenceman kept his options open.

His patience proved well-founded when it was revealed yesterday that he would be heading off to Sweden to further his career in 2018-19 with Leksands in the second-tier Allsvenskan.

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But, as O'Connor was fully aware, Steelers' head coach Paul Thompson had other defensive options open to him as he continues his rebuild for the 2018-19 campaign, one of which was revealed today to be Belfast Giants' Ryan Martinelli.

HEADING OUT: Defenceman Ben O'Connor. Picture: Dean Woolley.

After two seasons in Northern Ireland, Thompson has persuaded the 31-year-old Canadian defenceman to make South Yorkshire his home for next season.

The signing rounds off a hectic few days for the Steelers which has seen the retirement of two club legends in the shape of Levi Nelson and Mathieu Roy, the departure of O'Connor and now the arrival of a new face.

Steelers' fans will be very familiar with Martinelli, a player who Thompson believes will add some physicality on the the team's back line.

“Ryan always played hard against us,” said Thompson “He stood out in all the games I saw him play.

“He is a big man and plays with a physical edge. I love the way he enjoys shutting down other team’s top lines. He takes immense pride in his job.

“I was also looking for a right handed shot D-man, a player with good size and presence, he fitted the bill. I knew we were signing a very good player but all my references said that we were signing an even better guy and strong leader."