How young Sheffield players 'hung on to Kirk's coat-tails'

Liam Kirk will be focusing on his step towards realising his ice hockey dream in America unaware of one positive factor that he has left behind.

Friday, 30th July 2021, 11:20 am

Kirk,21, has now been confirmed as a three year deal signing with Arizona Coyotes in the NHL

It is a wonderful step which emanates from figuring in the seventh round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.

But the background context, as most of the hockey world now knows, really stems back to the Sheffield junior hockey academy - the platform for his development.

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And what Kirk may have overlooked is that during his chrysalis period with Sheffield Rapiers, Steelhawks and the rest, he had a powerful and positive effect on the kids around him.

Players like Cole Shudra, Finlay Ulrick and Kyle Watson improved their own games by watching and learning from the young maestro.

And his trailblazing has led the way for further worldwide adventures for the likes of Sheffield's Alex Graham and Jack Brammer.

Watson, the Armthorpe, Doncaster-born forward, is on the scouts' list as he prepares to play at college level in Indiana, USA.

Liam Kirk with Steelers - pic Dean Woolley

And he affirms that having Kirk as a role model when they were both youngsters propelled their advancement forward at an even faster pace.

"At five or six years old you don't really think that any kid is going to go to the NHL" said Watson, who turns 21 on August 17.

"But growing up with Liam, you knew he was a really special player...and you wanted to hang on to his coat-tails and use him to develop yourself.

"You could see that when opportunities arrived for him, he was always one who had taken it with two hands. He has grasped things and done really well" said Watson, whose preferred route to north American stardon is through the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Kyle Watson, pic by Kris Shamber

"When he got the opportunity at Steelers (playoff winning team of 2016-17) I think that was the perfect platform for him purely because of the opportunities he'd had in the past which he had relished and done really well in."

So why had Kirk succeeded at every challenge?

"It is because of his mindset," said Watson. "He has a strong belief in what he can do and who he is.

"I don't see why he won't succeed in the NHL.

Finlay Ulrick, pic courtesy of Manchester Storm

"There have been so many obstacles against him, being a Brit, playing in a country where hockey is not that big, playing in the Elite League which NHL people don't draft out of because it is an unknown...but then he did so well in the OHL (Peterborough Petes) and then lit up the World Championships, which is all extremely impressive."

Watson knows Kirk's next test is his most telling one to date.

"The next level is always bigger, faster and stronger. He has got the skill set and aims to develop that while also planning to get bigger faster and stronger.

"The mental side of things - well, he's got that pretty much figured out."

Watson's dad, Robert, watched both his son and Kirk flourish at iceSheffield.

He said: "They had a great understanding playing together as juniors, that anticipation and reading of the game was instinctive on both their parts - that hockey IQ gave them the advantage."

Steelers know all about Watson's potential and they will be keeping an eye on him and NHL hopeful Kirk.

Spokesman Dave Simms said: "We're delighted Kirky got a three year ticket. He'll go to an NHL training camp and will probably go for a while to Arizona's AHL affiliate. He's in a fabulous position."