This summer, an 18-year old from Maltby, Yorkshire, made history. Liam Kirk became the first English born and trained ice hockey player to be taken in the NHL Draft, when the Arizona Coyotes selected him at 189th overall, giving him a real shot at one day skating in the most prestigious league in the world.
Many of you won’t have heard of this story, or of Liam himself, and that explains how much of a big deal it is for everyone involved in the British game. Kirk played his junior hockey in Sheffield and it didn’t take long for word to spread about the young talent. At the age of 16, Liam signed for the Sheffield Steelers, one of the biggest clubs in Britain, and the main rivals of the side I support, the Nottingham Panthers. Prior to signing for the Steelers, Kirk recorded an unbelievable 60 goals and 38 assists in the British u18 league, only turning 16 in January of that season.
After his first season playing full-time senior hockey, splitting time between Sheffield Steeldogs and Steelers in the 2016-2017 season, rumours about interest from the NHL ran throughout British hockey, something which hadn’t happened for a long time. Current Belfast Giant, Colin Shields, was selected as a 20-year-old in the 2000 NHL draft but the Scotsman never made it beyond the American minor leagues before returning to British shores.
So, what’s different about Liam? In short, everything. The progress of British ice hockey in recent years, despite some systemic flaws, has set Liam on the right path for his professional career. Liam was a regular for the Midlands conference, England and Great British teams throughout his junior career, and this year captained the Great Britain U18 side to Division 2A World Championship gold. The former Steeler also featured for the GB men’s side, who won promotion to the top tier of the World Championships. The 18-year-old could likely face off against Canada’s Connor McDavid in Slovakia, this summer.
Upon being drafted into the NHL, the multi-million-dollar franchise can decide the future of these young superstars. The Coyotes, a troubled franchise, seem to be turning corners in recent seasons, in part thanks to fellow Brit Brendan Perlini, decided to send Liam to the Ontario Hockey League, the highest standard of Junior Hockey in the world.
Liam’s new side, the Peterbrough Petes, have picked up three wins out of four games so far, and #14’s skilful and equally hard-working style of play has resulted in Kirk picking up two goals and an assist thus far.
What’s next for Liam Kirk? Liam has consistently set a precedent for British ice hockey, and continues to do so over in North America now. The record 98 points in 17 games in the 2015-2016 season in the British u18 league is yet to be broken and probably won’t be for some time.
Liam’s selection in the draft and early success in the OHL proves hopeful for the future of British ice hockey. We’ll be following the Yorkshiremen’s development throughout this season and beyond, as he looks to crack the Coyotes roster.