The big Steeler surprise in store for Sheffield ice hockey fans

Jonathan Phillips is pleased that Sheffield ice hockey fans are about to witness what he's been watching from close quarters over the last few months - the development of former Steelers' team mate Liam Kirk.

Thursday, 11th February 2021, 5:14 pm

Kirk, now 21, left the Arena in the summer of 2018 after being picked in the NHL Entry Draft by Arizona Coyotes.

Since then, he has blossomed at Canada's Peterborough Petes in the OHL and had a dozen games in Sweden with Hanhals IF.

The difference in quality between the Kirk that Steelers' fans watched and the present day version is startling, says Phillips, who teams up with the Maltby-born prospect for Sheffield Steeldogs, this weekend, in the new Spring Cup competition.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The tournament is supported by the Government during the pandemic - although exactly what financial terms are involved has not been made clear.

Phillips is just glad to be back in action, with Dogs playing Swindon Wildcats away and home this weekend, to start off the series available to fans via web stream.

"Kirky went away from this country to something different and he's day and night different to the player he was when he left," said the GB captain, who is 17 years his senior.

"We worked out together in the summer and it was noticeable how he'd matured as a human being and as a player.

Liam Kirk, left, Britain's best chance of boasting an NHL star. Pic by Steve Gunn

"If you look at a video of the first season he came through (for Steelers) he looked so skinny!

"Now he has filled out and is putting the muscle on, which is something which comes with age."

Despite Phillips' veteran status, he picks up little slices of hockey knowledge by studying Kirk.

"I learn as much from him as he would from me - little things he does on the puck.

"One thing I have always been willing to do is try to keep on learning, wherever or whoever it is from, in this game.

"There is always someone who can teach you something."

Kirk's most obvious improvement has been the way he fires the puck.

"Technically, his shooting is the biggest difference," says the Steelers' skipper.

"The game now is all about the quick release and shooting in stride and he was saying that he really worked on that last year and you could see it coming through in some of the little drills we were doing.

"It is only little adjustments you have to make but you can either do it or you can't and he's really hunkered down."

Will Kirk make it all the way up the NHL ladder?

"I hope so, I really do," said Phillips.

"It can be very political out there and can be about being in the right place at the right time...and who you know.

"He did great in the last GB games and I don't see why he can't make it."

*Steelers and Great Britain defenceman Davey Phillips has joined Sheffield Steeldogs for the Spring Cup tournament.