Coyotes import Liam Kirk’s unusual path to North American hockey
GLENDALE, Ariz.– Liam Kirk didn’t have major expectations when he started playing hockey.
As a native of Rotherham, England, the national sports are football (not American) and cricket. By his own admission, he wasn’t very good at the latter sports. Thankfully for him, the 20-year-old Coyote found a new sport and a passion that has led him to North America.
Taken by the Coyotes in the seventh round in last week’s NHL Draft in Dallas, Kirk became the first English born and fully trained player to be selected.
Even more surprising than Kirk’s selection was the way he found out he was picked.
“There was an advert during the draft so we didn’t actually get to see it happen,” Kirk said. “So I got a text message from someone I used to play with,. I just kinda got really excited. It was really emotional for me and my family just because coming from Britain you don’t expect it.”
The country isn’t known for producing high-level talent in hockey. This was something that wasn’t lost among the friends of the slender national star.
“There was a recurring joke in school with my friends if they get some skates they can turn up at the rink and make the JV (junior varsity) team,” Kirk said.
Kirk is a long way past junior varsity hockey. His path to the sport was unusual. When he was young, a family friend took him and his older brother to a Sheffield Steelers game. Kirk’s older brother Jonathan took an interest in the game, and the younger brother soon followed suit.
“I just wanted to be like him when I was younger,” said Kirk. “I began playing hockey at the Sheffield junior academy and just went from there.”
The struggles Kirk endured playing other sports were a thing of the past after he laced up his hockey skates for the first time. As an 18-year-old, he had the opportunity to play for the team that first piqued his interest in hockey, the Steelers. Sheffield plays in the EIHL (Elite Ice Hockey League), the best league in Britain.
Kirk was playing in a league against other fully-grown men and excelled. What he lacked in physical stature, he made up for in speed and soon found himself on the NHL teams’ radar.
“He’s a thin kid, he needs a lot of physical development, but he has a good idea of the game and his natural skills were very good so they thought at that point in the draft it would be real good value,” Coyotes director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt said.
Among the many to congratulate Kirk on his selection was new teammate and fellow countryman Brendan Perlini. Perlini just completed his first full-season in the NHL, and he knows the road ahead for the newest Coyote.
Perlini was born in Great Britain and learned the game there, but he moved to Canada at a young age to pursue his hockey career. He returned to Europe last year and noticed the stark contrast in styles of play.
“I don’t know where he plans to play, but for him to pursue it any longer, he has to come over here,” Perlini said. “It’s a different style of hockey in Europe, with a bigger ice surface… a little slower pace. He needs to learn to play the North American game.”
The road ahead for Kirk won’t be easy as he looks to make it into the NHL. As a seventh-round pick the expectations aren’t sky-high from the organization and it will be on Kirk to force the issue in order to make his NHL dreams come true.
The expectation is that Kirk will be selected in the June 28 CHL Import Draft, giving Kirk his first opportunity to be introduced to North American hockey.
“For me, it’s just to prove myself, that I can compete at this level. A lot of people don’t really know what I’m like as a player or as a person, so I just have to go be myself and just come into the rink and work hard,” Kirk said.