Liam Kirk hoping to realise immediate ambition of helping Great Britain get back to World Championships top-flight
The next seven days at Nottingham’s Motorpoint Arena will determine whether Kirk and his team-mates can achieve that, helping overcome the deep hurt they felt in Finland last year when relegated after three competitive performances at ‘Pool A’ tournament level.
Kirk wasn’t part of the GB roster based in Tampere last time out, forced to stay home in Maltby and watch on TV as he continued his recovery from a knee injury which had ended his 2021-22 campaign with Tucson Roadrunners in the AHL just eight games in.
It was a long period of recovery for the 23-year-old, but he returned to action briefly in Tucson in September before being assigned to their East Coast affiliate Atlanta Gladiators.
After a handful of games there he found himself heading back to Europe, where he saw out the season on loan in Finland’s top tier with Jukurit.
According to all involved, Kirk’s time in Finland went very well but with a year left on his contract with the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, this summer will prove to be a pivotal point in his career once he heads back to North America in August.
Kirk, however, has spent the past 10 days at the GB training camp in Nottingham focussing on a more immediate ambition, one which he hopes will see his nation spend just one year in exile from the top-flight.
“It was tough to miss out last year and then seeing us get relegated,” said Kirk. “But this is always one of the best times of the year. Everybody wants to come and play for GB and to get the opportunity to represent your country is always special.”
As host nation, head coach Pete Russell’s team will be regarded as one of the favourites for the top two spots which guarantee promotion to get back among the elite teams of the international game including the likes of Canada, Sweden and Finland.
They get their campaign underway on Saturday night against Korea (7.30pm) before taking on Poland tomorrow (4pm). Further games follow against Lithuania, Romania and, on Friday, against Italy, a game many expect to be one that decides who finishes top of the group.
But there are a lot of minutes to be played before that grand finale and Kirk is adamant he and his GB team-mates will not get ahead of themselves in their quest for promotion.
“It is a big advantage being on home ice for this tournament,” added Kirk. “But obviously there is also some pressure that comes with being the home team and being one of the top seeds.
“We have the opportunity to win a gold medal on home ice and to go back up to that top tier and I’m really pleased to have the opportunity to try and help us do that.
“We’re as ready as we need to be and are confident going into that first game. We’re really excited about what’s coming our way.
“We need to make sure that we do what we need to do every game and take it night by night - if we can do that we should find ourselves going back up.”
Kirk is joined in the GB squad by several former team-mates from his time at Sheffield Steelers, where he played between 2016-2018.
Fellow forwards Jonathan Phillips, Robert Dowd and defencemen Davey Phillips and Ben O’Connor - now at Guildford Flames - all made the final cut, as did Steelers’ defensive pair Sam Jones and Evan Mosey.
Former Sheffield Steelers’ netminder Jackson Whistle forms a leading goaltending duo with Rotherham-born Ben Bowns, who came up through the junior system in Sheffield before going on to play for the Scimitars and Steeldogs, before moving on to Hull Stingrays and then finding several seasons of success with the Cardiff Devils.