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Sheffield Steelers' Liam Kirk dresses to impress at NHL Scouting Combine

ON THE UP: Sheffield Steelers' Liam Kirk will take part in the NHL Entry Draft in Dallas later this month. Picture: Dean Woolley.
ON THE UP: Sheffield Steelers' Liam Kirk will take part in the NHL Entry Draft in Dallas later this month. Picture: Dean Woolley.
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NHL hopeful Liam Kirk admitted it was a "special" moment after he became the first British-born and trained player to take part in the league's annual Scouting Combine.

The 18-year-old Sheffield Steelers forward was one of 104 youngsters invited to travel to Buffalo to undergo a series of rigorous fitness and agility tests as well as interviews with various NHL teams ahead of the annual Entry Draft in Dallas later this month.

Speaking before his return to the UK, Kirk told an ever-growing number of interested reporters at the city's HarbourCentre that he had enjoyed the opportunity to show what he was about as he continues his single-minded dream to become the first British-born and British-trained player to play in the NHL.

"It's been tough, especially the testing, but overall it has been really good," said Kirk, who first played senior hockey for Sheffield Steeldogs before being enrolled on the Steelers' apprenticeship scheme two years ago.

"I've always believed that I can play in the NHL but, as a kid from Britain, you don't expect this so it's been great to come out here and show what I can do. Obviously this is just the first step on the ladder and I know there is a lot more hard work to be put in.

"But on the other side of the fact I'm English, I hope it paints a picture to people that Britain is a hockey country and that there are good players coming out of Britain."

Kirk revealed that during a number of interviews he had with NHL team general managers and scouting staff in Buffalo that there was plenty of intrigue in him being from the UK, not widely regarded as a hotbed of hockey talent. Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, New York Rangers, San Jose, and Washington are just some of the teams that it is believed Kirk had conversations with last week.

When asked what he thought first attracted NHL scouts to him at the Steelers before Christmas last year, Kirk replied: "I don't know, maybe that I'm unique and from England - that seems to be a kind of talking point for a lot of people here. I know a lot of times during the interviews here that the question was often 'You play hockey from England?'

Regardless of what happens in Dallas on June 22-23 - the Maltby-born youngster is predicted to be selected among the fourth or fifth round of picks - Kirk said his intention for the 2018-19 season would be to play in the Canadian Hockey League, with the import draft taking place at the end of this month.

Either way his time with the Steelers is over, although Kirk reiterated his hope that his journey - however it ends - could open the door for other youngsters from the UK to follow in his footsteps.

"It would be great to help put England on the map a bit more," he added. "Hockey isn't a popular sport over there but it's nice to see it growing and it's getting more exposure now, particularly with the GB men's team getting promoted to the top tier of the world championship and me being over here at the Combine."