Liam Kirk, Ben Bowns and other Great Britain stars get behind EIHA Showcase event in Sheffield to highlight next generation of talent

THE past few days may have been about the current Great Britain team as they strive to clinch an instant return to the top tier of the World Championships – but this weekend is very much about the next generation of talent coming through.

And it’s right here on your doorstep in Yorkshire.

The English Ice Hockey Association – the sport’s governing body in England and Wales – will be staging its four-day Showcase Tournament at Ice Sheffield.

It is an opportunity for youngsters aged from 7 to 18 to impress hockey fans from all over the country in what is essentially a celebration of the best talent on offer.

NEXT GENERATION: Some of the best talent in England and Wales will be on show in Sheffield this weekend. Picture courtesy of the English Ice Hockey AssociationNEXT GENERATION: Some of the best talent in England and Wales will be on show in Sheffield this weekend. Picture courtesy of the English Ice Hockey Association
NEXT GENERATION: Some of the best talent in England and Wales will be on show in Sheffield this weekend. Picture courtesy of the English Ice Hockey Association
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If you pop down to the event this weekend – it gets underway today with a Mites and Mighty Mites Camp for 7-8 year-olds before a game between two teams of Under-15 England girls this evening – you might just be seeing the next Liam Kirk, Robert Dowd or Ben Bowns emerging and beginning to follow in the footsteps of the current GB heroes.

Some of the youngsters on show have already been selected for England at their respective age groups and will be compete in tournaments in Bratislava, Slovakia, in June, while others will head to Dumfries for an event later this month.

In contrast, to the previous annual Conference event which used to be staged at the venue each, with teams at various age groups competing on a regional basis from the North, the Midlands, the South East and the South West, this year’s tournament has adopted a different approach.

Based on submissions and recommendations from club coaches, as well as those already casting an eye over the top-end talent within the ongoing England junior programme, four teams will still take part, but each team has been put together in a new Draft system.

LEADING LIGHT: Liam Kirk is one of a number of GB players - past and present - to lend their names to the teams competing at this weekend's EIHA Showcase tournament at Ice Sheffield Picture courtesy of Karl Denham/Ice Hockey UKLEADING LIGHT: Liam Kirk is one of a number of GB players - past and present - to lend their names to the teams competing at this weekend's EIHA Showcase tournament at Ice Sheffield Picture courtesy of Karl Denham/Ice Hockey UK
LEADING LIGHT: Liam Kirk is one of a number of GB players - past and present - to lend their names to the teams competing at this weekend's EIHA Showcase tournament at Ice Sheffield Picture courtesy of Karl Denham/Ice Hockey UK
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Essentially, whereas before team-mates came together based on a regional basis, they have been selected into four teams, regardless of where they play their club hockey.

Through the draft, coaches have tried to create four equally-competitive teams at all age groups from Under-12s right through to Under-18s. Each team will play one game per day, while there will also be a range of off-ice activities for the youngsters including strength and conditioning, mobility and well-being sessions.

As a tie in with the current World Championships in Nottingham, all four teams are named after GB players who have been competing for the national team at the Motorpoint Arena this past few days - with netminder Ben Bowns, defenceman Mark Richardson and forwards Jonathan Phillips and NHL Draft pick Liam Kirk lending their names to the event for teams from Under-12s through to Under-15s.

At Under-16 and Under-18 level, teams are named after GB legends David Longstaff and David Clarke.

BEHIND THE BENCH: Leeds Knights' head coach Ryan Aldridge - a former GB Under-16 assistant coach - will coach one of the Under-16 teams at the EIHA Showcase event at Ice Sheffield this weekend. Picture courtesy of Oliver PortamentoBEHIND THE BENCH: Leeds Knights' head coach Ryan Aldridge - a former GB Under-16 assistant coach - will coach one of the Under-16 teams at the EIHA Showcase event at Ice Sheffield this weekend. Picture courtesy of Oliver Portamento
BEHIND THE BENCH: Leeds Knights' head coach Ryan Aldridge - a former GB Under-16 assistant coach - will coach one of the Under-16 teams at the EIHA Showcase event at Ice Sheffield this weekend. Picture courtesy of Oliver Portamento
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Some top-end coaches have also been drafted in for the event, with Leeds Knights’ Ryan Aldridge overseeing one of the ‘Clarke’ Under-16 team, with NIHL National rival coaches Sean Easton and Jamie Elsom – both currently involved with the GB junior programme – also behind the bench at the higher-end age groups.

When announcing the team names last month, Showcase lead Ben Pitchley admitted it was a tough call to pick which players to honour.

“The moment we decided to move away from regional teams we knew we needed to find some special players and these six are amongst the greatest we have ever produced,” said Pitchley.

“Jonathan Phillips is the ultimate leader, unselfish, hardworking, and always holds himself to the highest standards. Ben Bowns has had an incredible career and he has taken netminding in the UK to a new level.

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“Mark Richardson is another wonderful pro, who as a defenceman exhibits the skills and the mental fortitude we want our players to show.

“As for Liam Kirk, he was the last of those names through the programme and he continues to inspire the kids now as he chases his dreams.”

“The two Davids were obvious choices, David has been a consummate goal scorer at every level in his career and David Longstaff was the best player of his generation.”

Maltby-born Kirk, who came through the Sheffield junior system and spent two years at Sheffield Steelers before making history as the first English-born player to be selected in the NHL Draft back in 2018, added: “It is a privilege to have a team named after me.

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“It sounds like a really exciting format, and I know how much I would have enjoyed the chance to play with the best players of my age group from other regions, as well as against my mates.”

The Showcase event for Under-12s through to Under-18s runs from Saturday morning until Monday evening. Friday sees the Mighty Mites and Mites hold training camps and games, with the two England Under-15 Girls teams staging a match this evening.

Anyone wishing to attend the event as a spectator, can pay on the door, with a day ticket costing £10 per person (£5 concessions).