AS he boards an aeroplane bound for New York later today, Sheffield Steelers’ Liam Kirk will be very much stepping into the unknown.
The 18-year-old forward has proved something of a sensation in the past few months with the Elite League club, with National Hockey League scouts paying regular visits to see the talented youngster in action after word spread across the Atlantic Ocean that, for once, the British game had somebody who was worth taking a closer interest in.
Over the years, more than 50 players born in the UK have gone on to play in the NHL with varying degrees of success
The big difference with regard to Kirk – who is expected to be picked in the fourth or fifth round of the NHL Entry Draft in Dallas next month – is that if he then goes on to play in what is widely-regarded as the world’s best league, he will become the first player to be born and trained in the UK to do so.
It is a daunting prospect but, in the coming days, Kirk has an excellent opportunity to enhance his chances of realising his NHL dream and, in his words, blazing a trail for other British youngsters to follow suit.
The Maltby-born winger’s first-ever trip to the USA today is because he has been invited to attend the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo which will see him put through a series of skill and physical tests in front of scouts and officials from all 31 NHL clubs.
For those that are impressed enough by Kirk or any of the other 100 or so youngsters invited to attend the week-long event, interviews will then be held to gain a firmer grasp of the player’s character and personality.
Kirk has already made history by becoming the first British-born player to attend the Combine and, while he admitted to being slightly daunted, he remains focused on the main goal.
“The testing will be to assess where I am at physically and what skills I need to improve on,” Kirk told The Yorkshire Post. “The interviews will be to gauge my character and whether I would be a good fit for their organisation.”
Kirk admits that the past eight months have taken him somewhat by surprise but, despite his tender years, it is still something he has taken in his stride.
I want to go and be successful as a player over there, but I’d also like to create a path for other young British players to see that someone has gone and done it before themLiam Kirk
“When I got the call to go to the Combine, it blew me away a little bit, but it’s an exciting time,” said Kirk. “The main plan next season is to go and play in the junior leagues in Canada, but hopefully I get drafted and I get to go to some NHL training camps.
“I want to go and be successful as a player over there, but I’d also like to create a path for other young British players to see that someone has gone and done it before them and that they don’t necessarily have to leave the country to do so – just that they come in and train hard and believe that they can do it.”