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Sheffield Steelers’ star Ben O’Connor keeping his options open after KHL rejection

TRUE GRIT: GB's Ben O'Connor battles for puck possession against Hungary on Saturday night. Picture: Dean Woolley.
TRUE GRIT: GB's Ben O'Connor battles for puck possession against Hungary on Saturday night. Picture: Dean Woolley.
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THE door remains open at Sheffield Steelers for defenceman Ben O’Connor – but he knows it will not stay ajar indefinitely.

O’Connor’s plans for 2018-19 were thrown into disarray over the weekend when Barys Astana, the KHL club who he signed for only last month, informed his agent that he was no longer required.

It follows a change of ownership at the Kazakhstan club with the new owners and coaching team following other options for next season’s roster instead.

While hugely frustrating for 29-year-old O’Connor, who played a pivotal role in helping Great Britain earn a gold medal-promotion to the world’s elite division last month, he is keeping his options open, for the next week or so at least.

His slot on the Steelers’ roster has not yet been filled for 2018-19, although head coach Paul Thompson says discussions over possible replacements are taking place.

And while O’’Connor has thoroughly enjoyed his four-year spell in South Yorkshire - winning two league titles and a play-off trophy during that time - there remains an understandable itch to scratch in terms of testing himself at a higher level.

OPTIONS: Ben O'Connor, pictured playing for Sheffield Steelers last season. Picture: Marie Caley.

OPTIONS: Ben O'Connor, pictured playing for Sheffield Steelers last season. Picture: Marie Caley.

“For me it’s just a case of wrong time, wrong place - it’s just very unfortunate,” said O’Connor. “You think once you sign a contract it is a done deal, but these things happen.

“It’s one of the best leagues in the world - second only to the NHL for some people - and I wanted to prove that I could play at that level. If it turned out that that I wasn’t good enough then fair enough, but I just wanted to have a go, but I’ve not even had that chance.”

O’Connor and Thompson have had a close working relationship for years, going back to when the defenceman played under him at Coventry Blaze back in 2008-09.

Thompson is in the process of a major rebuild at the Steelers following a trophyless season and O’Connor is fully aware he cannot take anything for granted.

It’s one of the best leagues in the world - second only to the NHL for some people - and I wanted to prove that I could play at that level. If it turned out that that I wasn’t good enough then fair enough, but I just wanted to have a go,

Ben O’Connor

“I fully understand that Thommo and Tony (Smith, owner) are putting their plans in place for next season. I’ve spoken to Thommo and he’s said that he’s got a couple of guys that he’s talking to (for my position) -I know he has a job to do.

“I’m not taking anything for granted with the Steelers - I’ve loved my time there immensely but, at the same time, it is silly not to try and play at a higher level.

“It’s a big gamble to leave somewhere where you feel safe but, at the same time, you have got to do what is best for you and your family.

“There are a few things out there and I’d be crazy not to take a look and see what is available. A lot of teams are filling up quickly all over Europe, so I’m going to take a week or so and just see what is out there.”

Sheffield Steelers head coach Paul Thompson.' Picture: Helen Brabon

Sheffield Steelers head coach Paul Thompson.' Picture: Helen Brabon

Thompson said he had every sympathy with O’Connor and his situation.

“We are in constant communication with each other and we have a great relationship,” said Thompson. “At this point, I don’t have anyone in the position that Ben filled for us, so, absolutely, the door is open for him.

“But, as time moves on, we do have to think about next season as a club and if a player does become available in the next couple of days or so, for example, and wants to commit himself to Sheffield then we’ll all have to make a big decision.”