By Orsi Zsuppán
If you ever meet Liam Kirk, don’t forget to ask for a picture, because it will probably worth a lot soon.
This 18-year-old is very likeable, professional but still approachable, is here “to have fun”, is on the doorstep of the NHL and he is willing to kick the door in if needed.
Liam was born in Rotherham, a large town only six miles away from Sheffield and has been playing in the city ever since then.
He’s been mostly inspired by his big brother Jonathan, who plays for Hull Pirates in the National Ice Hockey League (NIHL) at the moment.
“I started playing when I was around three to four years old,” said Liam. “I first skated at a local roller hockey rink and then started playing ice hockey.
“Jonathan has been very important. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here right now probably. He helped through a few downtimes, told me to stay positive and to enjoy it.”
Liam made it through all the steps, from junior to the top British league, the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL), but in only two years.
The forward was only 12 years old when he made his debut for the U16s, playing five games and scoring three points (two goals and an assist).
In the 2015-16 season, he played 17 games for the Steelhawks, Sheffield’s U18 team, scoring 98 points (60 goals and 38 assists).
This means on average he scored 3.5 goals and 2.2 assists per game – in a sport where usually both teams score, on average, five goals between them.
In addition to that, he scored another 27 goals with 17 assists during his 10 played games for the Scimitars (U20), four goals and two assists for the Spartans (NINL, seven played games) and even appeared for 15 games with the Steeldogs (playing in the English Premier Ice Hockey League at that time) – and he played for Great Britain U18s.
All when he just turned 16. When he was asked about this phenomenal season, he shrugged his shoulders and said with a shy smile “yeah, it was a good season”.
But he has been keep hungry for more. The next season, he was signed by the Steelers (EIHL) but loaned back to the Steeldogs, scoring another 45 points (20G, 25A) in 38 games, named as captain for the GB U18 squad and was part of the U20 squad.
Fans had high expectations towards him and all eyes were on the 18-year-old miracle kid in Sheffield.
“I did feel a bit of pressure from the fans at the beginning of this year, mainly because this was my first full season,” admits Liam.
”They were always looking at me if I’m doing something right or wrong. But now every time they have the chance they’re telling me that I’m doing well and it feels good.”
This season, he scored nine goals and seven assists in 52 games and was a huge part of all three different GB squads.
First, he won a bronze medal with the U20s in the Division 2A, making a great contribution to the medal as he had the best face-off percentage, most goals, assists and points (7+7 in five games for 14 points).
In April this year, he not only got promoted to the Division 1B with the U18 squad, but Liam was also part of the senior team who won the gold medal in Budapest got promoted to the top division for the first time since 1994.
“Winning gold has been my favourite moment so far in connection with ice hockey. Winning gold for GB, lifting that trophy up is an unbelievable feeling, I will never forget that,” added Liam with a massive smile on his face.
Playing at this high level at such a young age has its bumps as well but he is trying to be a normal teenager as much as he can.
He said: “My life is a little different from the others as we train in the mornings, so I miss the first half of school and have to go back in the afternoon to finish the work.
“It’s a bit tough, I miss out a lot of social events on the weekends but I still try to be a teenager and enjoy life as much as I can – and be with my friends as much as I can.”
Even though most of his friends or team-mates are preparing for their summer holidays, Liam had to face one more challenge, crowning his great season, as he attended the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo.
Between the 27th May and 2nd June, the teenage players had to face medical assessments, a series of physical tests and interviews with different NHL teams as a preparation for the Draft on 22nd and 23rd June.
This was the perfect occasion for Liam to show those on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean that he is nippy and fast and hard to contain when he gets going.
He grabbed the opportunity, stayed focused and even came ninth at the pull-ups. The tests and the rankings don’t mean that much by themselves but it is another great chance for Liam to put himself on the map.
He has been selected for the 2018 NHL draft list, ranked #65 by the NHL Central Scouting among the EU Skaters and #95 by Scott Wheeler, Toronto Maple Leafs reporter.
Liam has good chances to be taken in the fifth or sixth round, following the footsteps of a other British players, including hockey legend Tony Hand who was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in 1986.