The passion and drive that earned Liam Kirk his Arizona Coyotes NHL entry level contract

ONE of the worst kept 'secrets' in hockey was confirmed on Wednesday night when Arizona Coyotes announced they had indeed signed former Sheffield Steelers and Sheffield Steeldogs' forward Liam Kirk to a three-year entry-level contract.

BIG TIME: Liam Kirk, pictured in action against the Czech Republic in the recent World Championships in Latvia. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

The 21-year-old winger, from Maltby, lit up the World Championships in Riga earlier this year when he finished as the tournament's joint-top scorer with seven goals, a display which impressed the Coyotes' management team, who admit Kirk has fully earned his chance.

Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong said the organisation were impressed with the passion shown by Kirk in his efforts to earn a deal with a team he was first drafted by back in 2018 before going on to spend two seasons in the OHL with Peterborough Petes under former Steelers' defenceman Rob Wilson.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

"This kid's got a tremendous amount of passion," said Armstrong. "He yearns to be over here training and being in an NHL environment. He hasn't had that. I've got to give the kid all the kudos in the world because there he is in a small apartment somewhere in London, and he goes to the World Championship and lights it up and earns himself an NHL contract.

FAMILIAR FACE: Liam Kirk, in action for Sheffield Steelers against Coventry Blaze in the recent Elite Series in Nottingham. Picture courtesy of EIHL/Dean Woolley.

"He fought for that contract. We weren't giving it to him easily. He earned every single dime of that contract."

Kirk made headlines throughout the hockey world three years ago when he became the first English-born and -trained player to be drafted by an NHL team. Due to the pandemic, he found himself back in the UK last season, gaining invaluable ice time in behind-closed-doors tournaments with both of his former Sheffield-based clubs.

He is now waiting for his visa to be processed, before traveling to Arizona for training camp.

"It's extremely exciting," said Kirk. "It's a blessing. This is something I've always dreamed of. I've worked really hard for this, I've put a lot of time and effort into it, and I've made a lot of sacrifices along the way.

PICKED OUT: Liam Kirk, pictured at an Arizona Coyotes training camp just a few days after he was drafted in the seventh round (189th overall) by the NHL organisation in the summer of 2018. Picture courtesy of Arizona Coyotes

"I've had great coaches and amazing support from my family. I'm just extremely excited and ready to get to work.

"When I got drafted, there were still a lot of unknowns," added Kirk said. "Especially being from England, you're not really too sure how everything works. It was just a lot of excitement. As soon as I got drafted, it just lit another fire inside of me that made me want to (earn) a contract.

"There's been ups and downs, with COVID and everything, some setbacks and adversity, so that contract getting signed, for me personally, feels like a greater achievement."

Once he arrives in the USA, Kirk is determined to prove that he has what it takes to go on and make even bigger history by playing in 'The Show'.

"I'm looking to head out and get over there before training before camp starts," he added. "I want to go, work hard and just be as consistent as I can, and try to do things the right way on and off the ice. At the end of the day, I want to be an NHL player.

"The journey is probably going to be long. It was a long journey to be a signed prospect after getting drafted. I'm not in a rush to go and make the team or anything, but that's the end goal.

"Essentially, it's what Bill and the player development staff thinks will be best for me. Where I go will be decided after camp. I'm just really excited to get going, get working, get to Arizona. It's been a long time coming."