Hopes for Liam Kirk from Sheffield Steelers coach after division drop down

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Steelers' coach Aaron Fox is keeping his fingers crossed that Maltby-born ice hockey star Liam Kirk will still make it to the very top of the sport.

The former Sheffield winger, who was selected in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft by the Arizona Coyotes, has been moved down a league by his American bosses.

It is the latest blow for a player who suffered a serious knee injury last year while skating for Coyotes' second-tier affiliate, Tucson Roadrunners, in the AHL.

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After months of rehab, Kirk returned to the Tucson roster but was unable to pick up where he left off and was granted only a single appearance so far this season.

He was reassigned to the ECHL division, which meant he was suddenly uprooted 1,750 miles east, to play for Atlanta Gladiators.

He responded last weekend by scoring three goals in two games.

Fox said if the skater's options were not playing much at the AHL or getting lots of opportunities in the ECHL, he felt he would develop better at the lower league.

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He said he expected Kirk to get some game time and then be hauled back up the leagues.

"Hopefully he has a good run" said the Sheffield coach.

"He is young he is driven, he can really shoot the puck. He can skate.

"There are a lot of players in the same boat as him that have those tools so you need an opportunity. And when you get a legitimate opportunity you need to run with it."

Fox said there was nothing but support coming from Sheffield for the 22-year-old.

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Liam Kirk Pic courtesy of Atlanta GladiatorsLiam Kirk Pic courtesy of Atlanta Gladiators
Liam Kirk Pic courtesy of Atlanta Gladiators

"He is definitely one of us, I enjoyed having him for the Elite Series, he trained with us last year, is a great person and I hope we see him one day at the highest level."

Kirk says he was initially disappointed with the switch but was now determined to impress and climb back up the ladder.

"It will definitely help to get some regular game time and lots of minutes in Atlanta" he said.

"It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like a hockey player playing regular games with the injury and stuff so I’m excited to play again.

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"I want to be an impact player everywhere I play, right now the focus for me is playing again, getting minutes under my belt, and gaining more confidence," he said.

As for his new lifestyle in Georgia, he said: "So far it’s been good. I have an apartment with two guys on the team, the rink is good, the guys are all great people."

Former Steelers' team mate Brendan Connolly was pragmatic about Kirk's 'demotion' down the ranks.

"These are the ebbs and flows of professional hockey," the Canadian said.

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"It is a competitive atmosphere, he obviously wasn't getting the opportunity he'd like in the American league.

"It is definitely a blow to the ego but Kirky is a guy that has a ton of drive and a ton of compete and just wants to be out on the ice and playing.

"He is going to have an opportunity to play professional hockey over in north America, get his feet wet and I have got no doubt in my mind that he will be back in the American League in no time."

But after this setback could the South Yorkshireman still go all the way and repay the faith that Arizona showed in him?

"I think so" replied Connolly.

"He has that drive, he has high-end finish, he has got speed, he has got a head for it ...yes definitely."