Silverware in the form of an Elite League regular season title may be at the forefront of Connolly’s mind when he steps out for a second season with Sheffield Steelers in September – his return being confirmed on Friday morning – but sealing a place in the GB squad for next year’s worlds in Finland comes a close second.
It was a case of third time lucky for the 35-year-old forward when he played in last month’s behind-closed-doors tournament in Riga, having first been denied by injury in 2019 and then again last year because of the global pandemic.
But his experiences in Latvia more than matched his expectations, Connolly playing an integral role in a GB team who finished the group stage with four points, including a first regulation win at ‘Pool A’ level since 1962.
Connolly finished the tournament with a goal and an assist in seven impressive appearances but it was the whole tournament experience that left him wanting more a little under 12 months from now.
“It was just a wonderful experience,” said Connolly, currently recuperating back home in South Carolina before returning to South Yorkshire in September.
“I had an absolutely amazing time – just to be on the ice with such high-level competition, was a remarkable experience.
“It makes you raise your game, makes you a better player and I couldn’t really have done it with a better group. It was a special period, something really cool to be a part of and something I’m definitely aiming to do again.”
Connolly believes GB benefitted in part by other teams under-estimating them.
“We were definitely under-estimated a little bit by some of the other teams,” he explained.
“Just playing against Slovakia and, despite losing 2-1, knowing that we were in that game the entire way through – that really gave us a lot of confidence and made us realise we were not just there to take part. We then felt we could do something special.”