Sheffield ice hockey graduate aims for US breakthrough

The Sheffield junior system is currently known throughout the ice hockey world for the development of NHL-prospect Liam Kirk.

Monday, 19th July 2021, 11:45 am
Kyle Watson is on his way to the US. Picture: Kris Shamber

It is a production line where the talents of Kirk, fellow Steelers Cole Shudra and Curtis Warburton, Manchester Storm's Finlay Ulrick and Great Britain goaltender Ben Bowns were honed, amongst others.

But there is one South Yorkshire-born player who is also attempting to make his name in the sport who is perhaps off most local fans' radar.

And that's because Kyle Watson has tried a different route to the top than his former team-mate Kirk.

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Watson, originally from Armthorpe, Doncaster, has spent the last five years combining hockey with the schooling system in America.

On Tuesday, he flies across the Atlantic for a planned four year berth at Trine University, in Indiana.

There, he hopes to attract scouts representing the game's biggest clubs, while protecting his longer-term future by studying business and economics.

Watson at 20, is seven and a half months younger than Arizona Coyotes' asset Kirk.

Kyle Watson as a junior in Sheffield

The duo and Ulrick were linemates as kids, winning titles and tournaments as they went through the age-groups at iceSheffield.

Then as a teenager Watson went overseas, where he ended up starring in the US Premier Hockey League with Hampton Roads Whalers.

In both of his seasons there, he more than held his own with homegrown talent, appearing in top 10 of point scorers across the League.

Watson accepts that he has taken a "different route" than his pal Kirk.

Liam Kirk in the goalmouth for Great Britain. Picture: Dean Woolley

"It was one that made the education part a lot more important to me," he explained.

"I went to school for three years and played hockey to try and get the college scholarship which I now have. Hopefully now I will have the opportunity of getting a great degree while furthering my hockey.

"Obviously hockey is the dream, everybody wants to play professional hockey but at the same time I want to have a good fall-back option if that doesn't work out."

The Doncaster Rovers' fan is every bit as ambitious as Maltby's Kirk.

"My goal is to get as high up the ladder as possible. I am extremely dedicated to my academic and hockey side of things. I am willing to work my way up and see how it goes, there is no target in mind.

"Compared with the (American) 20 year olds out there, I have done pretty well. But I let my hockey do the talking.

"Trine is a different challenge but one I am prepared to take on at full force."

The forward's father, Robert, has fond memories of how Sheffield junior hockey shaped both his son and Kirk.

"Kyle started playing when he was five and Kirky was four," he recalled.

"Kyle had a similar record to Kirky through a lot of the juniors" said Robert, who lives in Wakefield.

"Kyke wanted to play in north America since he was aged 13-14. Over here you can be a big fish in a small pond, but how big can you be over there in the bigger ocean?

"The deal has always been this: he is a bright lad and education had to come at the same time as hockey.

"So that is where overall the American college works, you get to do them simultaneously.

"It's the reverse of guys (imports) coming over to team up with the Sheffield Steelers and go to university.

"Our angle was that the education had to be tip-top rather than throwing everything into pure hockey."