Rotherham’s Liam Kirk became the first English-born and trained player to sign an NHL contract when he officially signed with the Arizona Coyotes this week.
The announcement comes two months after Kirk, who grew up in Maltby, helped Great Britain to its first top division regulation victory in a World Championship tournament since 1962. The entry-level deal is for three years.
“It’s extremely exciting,” Kirk said. “It’s a blessing. This is something I’ve always dreamed of. I’ve worked really hard for this, I’ve put a lot of time and effort into it, and I’ve made a lot of sacrifices along the way. I’ve had great coaches and amazing support from my family. I’m just extremely excited and ready to get to work.”
Coyotes General Manager Bill Armstrong is convinced of Kirk’s potential.
“This kid’s got a tremendous amount of passion,” Armstrong said. “He yearns to be over here training and being in an NHL environment. He hasn’t had that. I’ve got to give the kid all the kudos in the world because there he is in a small apartment somewhere in London, and he goes to the World Championship and lights it up and earns himself an NHL contract.
“He fought for that contract. We weren’t giving it to him easily. He earned every single dime of that contract.”
Kirk, 21, was drafted by the Coyotes in 2018 in the seventh round (No. 189), as the first English-born and -trained player to be drafted by an NHL team.
Kirk, talking to his new club, said: “When I got drafted, there were still a lot of unknowns. “Especially being from England, you’re not really too sure how everything works. It was just a lot of excitement. As soon as I got drafted, it just lit another fire inside of me that made me want to (earn) a contract. There’s been ups and downs, with COVID and everything, some setbacks and adversity, so that contract getting signed, for me personally, feels like a greater achievement.”
Kirk was introduced to the game through his parents’ interest in the Sheffield Steelers, the local professional hockey team in the EIHL, the United Kingdom’s top league.
“In Sheffield, there are two really big football teams, but the Steelers are pretty big too,” Kirk said. “When the Steelers started out, my parents went to watch. My older brother Johnathan started playing, then I started playing, and we just kind of went from there really. Hockey’s been a part of my life since I can remember.”
Liam finished as joint-leading goalscorer at the recent World Championship in Latvia and was also named on the all-star team. He scored seven goals in seven matches, which was the same tally as Andrew Mangiapane who was part of Canada’s gold medal-winning side as the Canadians beat Finland 3-2 in overtime in the final.
“To play for your country is amazing, it’s one of the greatest honors,” Kirk said. I wanted to go and have fun and just play the right way. I didn’t really focus on trying to get points, get goals. I knew it was going to be a battle for us when you play at that level. Obviously, I did want to contribute, but that wasn’t my main focus.”
Kirk, who was a seventh round pick of the Arizona Coyotes in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, last played a full season in 2019-20, when he scored 21 goals and 50 points in 47 regular-season games with the Peterborough Petes in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL),. His final junior season in 2020-21 was cancelled due to COVID-19. Kirk prepared for the 2021 World Championship by playing short stints in Sweden and for the Steelers.
Kirk is currently waiting for his visa to be processed, before traveling to Arizona for training camp.
“I’m looking to head out and get over there before training before camp starts,” Kirk said. “I want to go, work hard and just be as consistent as I can, and try to do things the right way on and off the ice. At the end of the day, I want to be an NHL player. The journey is probably going to be long. It was a long journey to be a signed prospect after getting drafted. I’m not in a rush to go and make the team or anything, but that’s the end goal.”
As for where he hopes to play this coming season, Kirk said, “It’s what Bill and the player development staff thinks will be best for me. Where I go will be decided after camp. I’m just really excited to get going, get working, get to Arizona. It’s been a long time coming.”
Images: Arizona Coyotes