Coyotes Liam Kirk, Brendan Perlini help progression of English hockey
DALLAS – Liam Kirk made history in this year’s NHL Draft.
The Arizona Coyotes drafted Kirk, the first player born and exclusively trained in England, in the seventh round with the 189th pick.
“When we got to that stage, it made a ton of sense to take him,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka said.
The left wing, 18, played this season with the Sheffield Steelers of the Elite Ice Hockey League.
In a country where hockey isn’t as popular, Kirk didn’t fall into the norms of English sports.
“I tried football and cricket but I was never any good,” he said laughing. “I just sat on the bench.”
Instead, he grew up watching the Steelers, always following his family to the rink.
“I just copied my older brother Jonathan. I wanted to be like him when I was younger,” Kirk said.
His older brother previously played for the Steelers and is currently a semi-professional hockey player for the Smailes Goldie Hull Pirates of the English National Ice Hockey League 1.
This is the first year that Kirk was eligible for the NHL Entry Draft and until October, it didn’t sink in that his name could be called in Dallas.
Kirk and his family were live streaming the draft when it reached the seventh round, and that’s when nerves started to take over.
He didn’t even hear his name called. A text from an old teammate was how Kirk found out.
“I just got really excited. It was very emotional for me and my family,” Kirk said.
By earning a spot on the Coyotes’ roster, Kirk would be joining one of only two active players in the NHL who were born in Great Britain.
Brendan Perlini, a left wing for the Coyotes, was born in Guildford, England, which is about a three-hour drive from Kirk’s birthplace of Maltby.
“We were excited to see if he was going to get drafted and him getting picked by Arizona was pretty cool,” Perlini said.
Perlini sent him a message right after the draft to congratulate him, Kirk said, and continues to be supportive.
“I think just as an English guy coming over, or a guy from a different country, he has to get acclimated to the climate,” Perlini said.
Perlini contrasted the sport in both countries and believes Kirk will have to grow the speed and physicality of his game.
Kirk’s ties with the Perlini family doesn’t stop there.
He played with Perlini’s brother, Brett, on Great Britain men’s national ice hockey team and the two helped their team win a championship in April.
“He’s a smart player,” Brett said. “He just has to get stronger.”
He has seen firsthand how Kirk can play and seconds his younger brother’s opinion that adjusting to pace will be important.
“Hopefully, people will start taking notice with Liam getting drafted and, hopefully, a lot more top athletes from the country will get into hockey and it grows the game,” Brett said.
Playing hockey in England presents many challenges for players.
Resources including coaches, ice time and rinks aren’t as readily available compared to places like the United States, Canada, Russia or Sweden.
“In England, it’s very tough,” Kirk said. “You train once a week.”
With ice time just once a week — at 5 a.m. on Sundays – the Perlini brothers played roller hockey growing up as a way to continue hockey practice, Brett said
“With Liam being drafted, it’s good for exposure and, hopefully, it can get a little bigger over there,” Brendan said.
Brett has seen the progression of hockey in England over the years and knows this could just be the beginning.
“You can make it,” he said. “Guys like Liam and Brendan show you that you can get drafted and you can make that roster spot.”
The day after Kirk was drafted, he flew to Arizona and addressed the media for the first time as an NHL draftee, saying he always believed he could make it to the NHL.
“I hope it sends a message not just to kids in Britain, but to kids everywhere, that if you believe in your dreams, you work hard, you dedicate towards it and you commit to making it, you can do it,” Kirk said.