Fitness battle the summer priority for Sheffield Steelers heroes - Bob Westerdale

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Two players dear to Sheffield Steelers' fans' hearts are ramping up their battle to be fit for the start of the 2022-23 season - but it has certainly been a hard slog so far.

Maltby's NHL draftee Liam Kirk says he is 90 percent fit as the next Arizona Coyotes rookie camp beckons on his calendar.

While Brendan Connolly is back in Sheffield working hard to hit the ground running for Steelers.

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Both men's seasons were ended by anterior cruciate ligament tears last season.

Mike Mawes, Head Strength and Conditioning coach at Steelers, has said: "Recovering from an ACL injury unfortunately isn’t a quick fix. The goal is to get Brendan game-ready. We hope for no setbacks."

Connolly is confident that: "Once the season starts I will be 100 percent."

In an interview with The Star from his home in Phoenix, Kirk - who has played 106 games for Sheffield - is hopeful both he and Connolly can have productive seasons on ice pads on either side of the Atlantic.

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"I am building my strength and speed on the leg that was injured, my focus is to be able to compete and play with no worries, we are on the right path, and come September I should be good enough to go, if not 100 percent, I should be good enough to play. Right now I am close to 90 percent" said Kirk.

Liam Kirk is working hard to be ready for the start of the new seasonLiam Kirk is working hard to be ready for the start of the new season
Liam Kirk is working hard to be ready for the start of the new season

"The only thing is the muscle is not as big and strong as it is on my left leg and there is a bit of tendon pain which I need to work through.

"Mike said Conns has been working through his issues during the Summer.

"It is a tough recovery and there are back-end problems that can happen.

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"But he is in good hands and hopefully he will be ready for the season and will have a good year."

Kirk's pre-season should start with an Arizona rookie camp, next month.

The camp starts with a squad of around 40 players but it is then cut back.

It is likely he will be sent back to American League affiliate Tucson Roadrunners, the team he was playing for when he sustained his injury.

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"This will be my fourth rookie camp, and it will be a good opportunity for me to get a few games in, early on," said Kirk, whose earliest sporting memory is playing roller hockey for Norton Cyclones at the Rotherham 'Simply Skate' rink on Eastwood Trading Estate.

"I have not played a full game since the injury on November 8. We'll see how long it lasts.

"I plan to stay as long as possible (with Coyotes) but with the injury and only getting eight games with Tucson before the injury, I expect to start the season with them.

Roadrunners' pre-season starts in October, starting serious games in mid-October, he said.

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The 22-year-old winger had a month in South Yorkshire before returning to the US.

"I had some good gym sessions with Mike and the boys, it was good to see them all the veterans hungry as normal, of course.

"The British guys, especially, want to win and are looking to come back in great shape and have some success."

"Players like Robert Dowd and Jonathan Phillips had serious injuries last season but neither of them wants to miss a shift let alone a game.

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"Both are extremely professional. Last year the roster sizes were not ideal and they perhaps couldn't rest as much as they'd probably needed."

When Kirk, himself, is totally injury-free, he says he is determined to improve his 'compete-level' and win more battles for the puck.

"The ice is smaller over here and I want to be better in tight areas and be able to use my body in those situations and engage in more battles."