Simmsey column: Can prospect Liam Kirk fill the boots of Sheffield Steelers' Robert Dowd?

Wherever there is a crisis there is a solution.

Wednesday, 17th January 2018, 12:44 pm
Updated Wednesday, 17th January 2018, 12:45 pm
Liam Kirk scores - but can he make the ultimate step up

Whenever you are a man down you are really looking for another man to step up.

That sums up the Steelers’ next fortnight in a nutshell.

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Problem 1. Suspensions, no Fitzgerald and no Jamtin after their antics in Belfast.

Problem 2. Injuries, big John Armstrong and now Robert Dowd. With Armstrong (an import) we can at least bring in a replacement (Eric Neiley) but where the Golden Child, Robert Dowd is concerned there is no such replacement.

No transfer that can be made, no replacement that can be poached from another side.

So that means we need those wearing our shirts on Saturday to stand up and be counted. Maybe Saturday is the break Liam Kirk has been looking for, maybe he is going to be that guy. Maybe against Guildford we will see the start of his next stage of progression.

Kirk didn’t make the Continental Cup trip to Minsk due to illness – now he is rested and will surely, due to Dowd’s absence, be given more ice time and responsibility.

Is Kirk like-for-like with Robert Dowd? Of course he isn’t right now but the hype from the GB junior programmes suggest he is the next big thing. After a slow start this year on a regular line we have seen Liam develop. His battle level has increased, his work off the puck is much better and his decision-making has improved.

Is he ready? Who knows but I guess you never do until fully tested. This weekend might be the start of that process.

Some have put too much pressure on Kirk, assuming he is already the real deal. Where he shines is in his own and higher age groups. He has promise, tons of it but doing the same against adults was always going to be a test.

I’ve been impressed, I like what I see but the real hard work, dedication, application and most importantly desire starts now. Kirk is a story because he is one of just a handful of younger players with promise. In Minsk I watch an under 18s practise and there was a rink full of Kirks, Shudras and Browns – it was frightening.

Liam has been told how good he is, what a star he is since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. The next two years will see if that unbelievable potential will turn into a proper professional senior men’s hockey player for both club and country.

His speed is exceptional, his skills outstanding. Now to make the next step it will be down to heart, desire, battle level. I heard those words from speaking to Andreas Jamtin last weekend.

We weren’t speaking about Liam, Cole and young Brownie but in my head I was thinking about the three of them as Andreas spoke about what he had to do to make it. The commitment, the punishment, the constant battle every minute of every hour of every day to become a professional in Sweden. One who had a great career in both the SHL and KHL. One who made it to the men’s senior national team and won a World Championship goal medal.

As Jamtin spoke I looked into his eyes. Still today at 35 as passionate as he was back then. Jamtin succeeded because he wanted it more than anyone else. I don’t think he has lost an ounce of that drive.

Have our kids got that Jamtin drive to go the next step? Being British will be an hindrance not an asset if they are to make it in Europe of North America. They will have to beat hundreds and thousands of similar kids around the world looking for those few places on the rosters of the teams they really want to be on.

Do the kids of today over here have that hunger, that ‘screw-you,’ attitude that desire, that means they will walk over anyone or anything to succeed.

We may get to find out a little more over the next couple of weeks about this country’s number one prospect.

Liam I hope you do want it that badly and I hope you show us.

Good luck kid.