Liam Kirk is Great Britain’s ice hockey sensation looking to make his NHL dream come true… and the 21-year-old has the World Championships to show his class on the big stageLiam Kirk is the first English born and trained player to be drafted in to the NHLBut the 21-year-old’s progress at junior NHL level was cut short by Covid-19Now Kirk will take on the best players around at the World ChampionshipsGreat Britain face a huge test in opener versus Russia at tournament in Latvia
Liam Kirk goes into ice hockey’s World Championships on Saturday hoping to re-ignite his NHL dream with Great Britain’s underdogs.
Kirk became the first English born and trained player to be drafted by a club in the world’s best league when Arizona Coyotes selected him in 2018.
But, after making good progress in North America at junior level, Kirk saw his time with development team Peterborough Petes come to an abrupt end through Covid.
Liam Kirk, 21, is the first English born and trained player to be drafted by a club in the NHL
Now, after returning to his home Sheffield Steelers for this year’s truncated Elite League, Kirk, at 21, will take on the world’s best players in the shop window with the eyes of the global ice hockey community watching his GB displays with interest.
And a good performance in the tournament in Latvia, starting with Saturday’s stiffest of challenges against Russia, could see him take a big step closer to the NHL by returning to North America or one of the top European leagues next season.
‘It was huge for me,’ Kirk told Sportsmail of his time in the Ontario Hockey League. ‘I got North American experience and I took on a leadership role. It was just really good to play with people of my own age who were of such a high calibre.
‘To get confidence and develop in a quicker game meant I learnt a lot from it and it was just sad the way it ended with Covid.
‘I missed the opportunity to have my over-age year in Canada but there are a lot of players in my situation or worse so I have to make the most of it and train as much as I can. Now I can’t wait to get going in the World Championships.’
Kirk is convinced he is a much better player than the one who featured in GB’s return to the highest level of the world game after a 25-year absence in Slovakia in 2019.
Kirk’s development at junior level in North America was cut short because of Covid-19
‘I want to do well in this tournament and see what my options are. Arizona will have input on where they think is best for my development but at the end of the day the decision will be mine. I want to be world-class and the NHL is still my goal so I want to put it to the back of my mind now and make a decision when it comes down to it.
‘Ideally my future will be in North America. That would be my first choice. The NHL dream is still alive. I want to play some good hockey, have some success with the team and see what happens from there.’
Kirk and his GB team-mates could not be facing a tougher test. They upset all the odds in Kosice two years ago when they came back from 3-0 down against France in what became a relegation decider to win 4-3 with a goal from Cardiff’s Ben Davies to retain their slot in the highest division.
But last year’s World Championships in Switzerland were cancelled and they go into this year’s event on the back of just a 12-game Elite League hastily arranged towards the end of the season ostensibly to give GB players match practice.
In contrast, most of their illustrious opponents are coming off the back of a full season at a much higher level, many of them in the NHL or, In Russia’s case, the second-best ice hockey league in the world in the KHL.
Kirk (right) knows ‘there will be a lot of people watching’ at the World Championships in Latvia
And to make it even harder for GB they will be without the coach who took them to the highest level in Pete Russell, who has not travelled to Latvia for personal reasons after spending the bulk of the last year away from his family working in Germany.
At least in Kirk they have a genuine star of the world game in the making, more mature than the player who played only a supporting role in that thrilling act of escapology in Slovakia two years ago.
‘I’m definitely a better player than two years ago,’ added the forward. ‘I’ve got a lot more experience and I’m a lot more confident. Hopefully I can go there and showcase that. We just want to go and play the best hockey we can and try and get some results.
‘I want to do my best. There will be a lot of people watching but that’s one of those things you try not to think about. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I know I have to go out there and perform and do the best I can.’
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