Ice hockey: Former-Sheffield Steeler Liam Kirk backed to succeed after Finnish experience

Liam Kirk playing in GB colours. Picture: Dean WoolleyLiam Kirk playing in GB colours. Picture: Dean Woolley
Liam Kirk playing in GB colours. Picture: Dean Woolley
Niklas Nevalainen believes South Yorkshire’s own Liam Kirk can put himself firmly in the shop window after a successful start to his Finnish experience.

The Maltby 23-year-old swapped the EIHL team Atlanta Gladiators in America for a loan spell at Mikkelin Jukurit, who play in Finland’s top flight recently.

Kirk has scored five points in his first seven games.

His former Steelers’ coach Aaron Fox was pleased when the player made the switch, saying the Liiga was probably the fourth-best league on the planet.

Nevalainen is under no illusion of the challenge ahead.

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“Honestly, it is a big, big step,” says the steady Steelers’ defenceman.

“It’s a definite step-up from the ECHL.

“He is probably going to be a really good player in that league and I hope he will do well.

“It will definitely take him closer to the NHL (Kirk was drafted by Arizona Coyotes in 2018) if he does well there.

“I think he is probably a quick learner. The hockey is a lot more controlled in the Liiga and there are more full-grown men in that league rather than in the ECHL.

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“It is pretty tight hockey, I would say” added the former Finland junior international.

“I hope he picks it up fast, and play the way they want him to play, that would make it a lot easier for him.”

The 29-year-old Finn, who had four seasons in the Liiga, said Jukerit was a well-run club under a former NHL coach who had turned their fortunes around.

Kirk was “in great hands.”

The Great Britain forward said in an interview with Jukurit’s website that he hoped success for him on the international stage would spark interest in UK hockey, where it is still a minority sport.

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Referring to British hockey, he said: “Conditions are getting better all the time. There are not very many ice rinks, but most of them are of a really good standard.

“Interest and the level are also on the rise.

“I believe that the success of the national team has increased interest.

“It will be interesting to see how things develop, but hopefully we will get more government funding and the like so that we can help the athletes and get more children on the ice.”

Kirk, who strapped on the skates for Sheffield Greyhounds a decade ago added: “Children can now see me as an example of something.

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“If I could do it, why couldn’t anyone else? There are a lot of kids in England who have talent.

“I wasn’t the most talented when I was growing up, I always lacked something. I worked hard and always wanted to be the best when I went on the ice.

“It helped me to the next level. If you work hard, do the right things and have the right attitude on the move every day, then anything is possible.”

Kirk has been happily surprised by his welcome in Finland.

“It was amazing to hear them (fans) call my name, I had never experienced anything like that before.

“It’s exciting to see the fans in this city so passionate.”