Sheffield Steelers v Nottingham Panthers – Liam Kirk key to giving Aaron Fox his preferred depth

AARON FOX is optimistic Liam Kirk will be recovered in time to return to action for tonight’s opening instalment of the Elite Series Final against Nottingham Panthers.

Sheffield Steelers hope to have Liam Kirk back in their line-up to face Nottingham Panthers in Saturday's Game 1 of the Elite Series Final. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

In both legs of the semi-final against Manchester Storm, 21-year-old Kirk came out for warm up, only to head back in and sit out each game.

The back injury he sustained in Sunday’s final group game against the Storm has proved harder to shake off than initially thought but, with another two days’ rest before the best-of-three opener at the National Ice Centre (7pm), Fox is confident the winger will be good to go.

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If so, Kirk’s inclusion in the starting line-up offers Fox the kind of depth he has been missing for the last two games.

Aaron Fox hopes his Sheffield Steelers' team will be at full strength when they face off against Nottingham Panthers on Saturday night. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

“He’s coming along,” said Fox. “He was actually on the ice (Thursday morning) for 10-15 minutes with Danny (Mawer, fitness coach) and then we got him out for the game warm-up and I think he was pretty close to being able to go.

“So I think after a couple more days here he should probably be ready and we can get him over the line.

“He has been everything I thought he would be for us.

“He’s such a skilled guy, he plays with such good pace and that fits in so well with how I want us to play and he gives us that extra depth.

Liam Kirk has scored 20 points, including 10 goals, in 12 appearances so far during the Elite Series. Picture courtesy of Karl Denham/EIHL.

“With him out, we’ve had Jon Phillips move up and play with Brendan Connolly and (Sondre) Olden and Dowdy (Robert Dowd) has been with Josef Mykyska and Ebs (Tanner Eberle),.

“So getting Dowdy back in his normal spot and Kirky where he belongs and then Jonno down with Josh Waller and Hewy (Jason Hewitt) just makes us that bit stronger.”

Nottingham come into the opening game on the back of an impressive semi-final aggregate win over Coventry Blaze. Fox anticipates a fun series.

“They are playing some good hockey right now,” added Fox.

“They’ve got two really good, solid offensive lines that can both score and then they’ve got a really good third line in (Robert)Lachowicz, (Ollie) Betteridge and Lewis Hook, that was like shutdown line against Coventry.

“And they’ve got some great goaltending in Jackson Whistle.”