PEORIA — Ben Oskroba showed his teammates how to win during his long leadership role with the Peoria Rivermen.


On Wednesday, he showed them how to say goodbye.


A day after the Rivermen announced they were opting out of the 2020-21 Southern Professional Hockey League season, Oskroba announced he wasn't coming back either.


In his case, though, it's permanent.


One of the most popular players the Peoria franchise has ever had, the veteran defenseman and assistant captain launched an emotional retirement.


"I can't describe how hard this decision was," said Oskroba, one of two last remaining charter members of Peoria's SPHL franchise, from his home in O'Fallon, Mo., on Wednesday morning. "It's not that I didn't want to play anymore. I just didn't want to play anywhere else but with the Rivermen.


"This pandemic, it has changed so many things for all of us. Every year, I tell myself 'One more year, one more year, I'll play one more year.' But this time, with the team shutting down for the season, it was just time for me to end my career.


"I started out as a Peoria Rivermen, and that's the way I wanted to end."


Oskroba and his wife Kate — they were just married in August — will live in O'Fallon. He is accepting a job as a customer service manager for a local home builder there.


"This day eventually comes for everyone in the game," Rivermen coach Jean-Guy Trudel said. "Ben was devoted to his teammates here, just a tremendous leader. I counted on him, and he spent his career as part of the heart of this organization. He never let us down. We'll miss him so much, but he'll always be part of that Rivermen history we're so proud of."


The 6-foot-5, 220-pound blueliner played 299 regular-season games for the Rivermen, notched 29 goals, 64 assists and a plus-67 rating. He added another 30 playoff games, with three goals, two assists and a plus-7 rating.


Oskroba wore an "A" on his No. 24 jersey and was a mainstay on Rivermen teams that finished first in the SPHL five times in seven seasons.


"The game, the organization and the community gave me so much," said Oskroba, 30. "There have been so many memorable moments on the ice with this team. We set so many records, had so many wins."


During his Peoria career, Oskroba won every team award that existed. He was named to the Pete BardezBanian Trophy, which goes to the Rivermen Booster Club's most popular player. He won the Mark Olson Award, which goes to the player who best displays devotion to the team, sport and community. And he won the Bruce Saurs Memorial Leadership Award.


We'll let Oskroba take it from here, with excerpts from a farewell he posted on social media:


"(My) 27-year journey started on an outdoor rink of a YMCA in Elmhurst at the age of 3 and has taken me to Arizona, Walpole, Mass., Lincoln, Neb., Boston, Connecticut, Colorado and my home for the last seven years, Peoria. Hockey has given me so much more than I could ever put into words. Sure, it never made me rich, but it did give me something that you can't put a price tag on. It gave me a lifetime of memories, life lessons and friendships. ...


"My dream, like every other hockey player, was to play in the NHL and obviously I came up short of that one. But after a bumpy college hockey experience I found a place I could call home with the Peoria Rivermen. Jean-Guy Trudel took a chance on me and allowed me to make my dream of playing professionally a reality and I will always be grateful for that. My time in Peoria allowed me to fall in love with hockey all over again."


Oskroba went on to name and thank every Rivermen front office member, every team trainer and equipment manager during his seven years in Peoria. And of, course, the fans and his teammates.


"I have met so many amazing people during my time there that I will never forget. Thank you to all the fans who have given me and my family so much support and love over the years. You are truly the best fans in the league. ... To all my teammates, thank you for making the last seven years the best years of my life. It was a pleasure playing with all of you. Although we weren't able to bring home the championship that we had come so close to over the years, my God did we win a lot of hockey games, set records and make a lot of memories and maybe a few times had too many beers.


"My last game wasn't winning a championship as I had hoped, but what a hell of a ride it was. Peoria, you will always have a special place in my heart. Thank you for everything, you are truly a championship town and first-class organization.


"I would never have imagined my last game would be played on a Sunday in March and I wish I could have soaked in that last game but sometimes the world throws a wrench into your plans. I won't remember how I played or what the score was but I will never forget the fans, my family, road trips, the locker room, the teammates that became family and all the friends and memories made along the way.


"Hockey, thank you for everything."


Oskroba then thanked his wife, parents, his sister, his uncles, aunts and cousins for all the sacrifices they made for his hockey journey, and for supporting him by coming to Rivermen games to see him play.


Then he signed off.


"Thank you to everyone who had a part in this. Love you all.


Ben Oskroba #24"


That's all for Cleve In The Eve on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020.


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Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or deminian@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.