Rotherham’s NHL prospect Liam Kirk is back in the familiar surroundings of South Yorkshire as he searches for game time.
The Maltby skater is the only English born and trained player to be drafted to the NHL, he was a seventh round pick of the Arizona Coyotes in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Since then he has been developing his game in the competitive Ontario Hockey League (OHL), with the Peterborough Petes.
Since being selected ninth overall in the 2018 Import Draft, “Kirky” has collected 97 points in 110 games across two seasons with the Petes. The forward set a career-high record during his 2019-20 campaign, in assists (29) and points (50).
Due to the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, no date has been agreed for the start of the OHL season. Liam is also likely to attend a training camp with the Coyotes but the virus has shifted schedules for that too.
So, frozen out in North America, Kirk, a former Sheffield Steeler, came back to Europe in the search for competitive hockey. A spell in Sweden was also cut short due to the virus so opportunistic National Ice Hockey League outfit, Sheffield Steeldogs forged a loan deal for Kirk to play in its Spring Cup campaign as more sports start to return in the UK.
The Petes said that the agreement allows Kirk to stay in condition until the 2020-21 OHL season starts and the move has also seen Liam link up on the rink with older brother, Jonathan, for the first time. Liam credits Jonathan with getting him into ice hockey.
Liam has excelled in the Spring Cup so far, notably a man of the match performance and four goals against the Bees in Slough.
And yesterday, it was announced that Liam would be back wearing orange for the Sheffield Steelers as they take part in the Elite League Series – a five-week mini-season starting in April under the government’s Elite Sport Guidance, with regular testing and a full COVID-19 protocol in place.
Steelers head coach Aaron Fox, said he was “really excited to have Kirky on board for this.”
He added: “I’m sure our fans will love to see him back in Orange. I helped facilitate his loan in Sweden to start the year and when he came back at Christmas we discussed with his NA [North American] agent some options and protection for him for next year. We worked out a deal that keeps him in Sheffield if there isn’t any NA options available to him.
“With the NHL ending in late July and him too old to be in the OHL there’s also a scenario where he could start the year with us and then go to a NHL training camp when they start if that option is out there. We would never hold a player back from that dream but it’s also important for us to know that if he is back in UK next year he’s back where he belongs.”
If you are looking for another Rotherham connection, Kirk’s final games for the Steeldogs are against the Telford Tigers this weekend. Cole Shudra, a former Wales High School pupil and the son of Steelers legend, Ron, is playing for Telford in the Spring Cup and Coventry in the Elite League Series.
Images: Sheffield Steeldogs / Facebook