While many fans may have left the arena or turned off the TV set by the seventh round of the NHL Draft, some history was made when the Arizona Coyotes chose Liam Kirk 189th overall.
Drafted from the Sheffield Steelers of the English Hockey League, Kirk becomes the first born and trained player ever picked out of England. He scored nine goals and 16 points in 52 games this past season for the Steelers, the third-highest point total ever in that league from an under-19 player.
The English are coming.
— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) June 23, 2018
“My parents went to watch the Sheffield Steelers when I was just a baby and my older brother, he was there as well, so he decided he wanted to play hockey,” Kirk told NHL.com ahead of the draft. “And as you do with older siblings, I just kind of copied him and it went from there.
“Those first few years I started playing hockey I just kind of had the dream to play for the Sheffield Steelers, but as you get older you realize how big the hockey world is.”
When you think of English sports the first thing that comes up is football — soccer, that is. Cricket and golf are also top of mind, but hockey is well down the list. Kirk said that many of his friends saw his interest in hockey as something of a joke, suggesting that all they needed was to buy a pair of skates and they could crack the English national roster.
Because hockey is such a small sport in the country, Kirk said he often played alone on roller blades at home to get practice. According to the IIHF, the United Kingdom has 10,325 registered players, 3,857 of which are junior-aged, out of a population of roughly 64.4 million. There are 58 indoor rinks and none that are outdoor.
“He went through so many challenges to get to where he is, so why stop now?” Sheffield head coach Paul Thompson told NHL.com. “He’ll probably play in the Canadian Hockey League next season to gain experience in North America. If that happened, we’d be over the moon that a kid from a mining town a couple miles outside of Sheffield would get this opportunity.”
Kirk’s rights aren’t currently held by any CHL team, but the Import Draft is next week on June 28 so he’s likely to be picked then.
That level of competition will help him get to the next level, but at the very least Kirk hopes to inspire other kids who love the game, but aren’t from hockey hotbeds, to follow their dreams.
“I hope it kind of gives the visual to kids in all non-traditional hockey countries, not just England, that if you believe and just put in the hard work and you’re committed that you can make it.”