Sheffield Steelers' defenceman juggles job options

Nevalainen in full flowNevalainen in full flow
Nevalainen in full flow
Niklas Nevalainen hopes to sign a new contract over the next few weeks. Exactly where that will be isn’t known, for sure.

But the Finnish defenceman, who turns 30 next month, says his last club, Sheffield Steelers, is one of his options.

Nevalianen missed just one of 70 games for the EIHL club in his maiden term, and proved to be the ideal defensive foil for Matt Petgrave.

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Petgrave enjoyed so much freedom roaming from the back, that he was the club’s joint top points scorer.

Niklas Nevalainen - a smart defencemanNiklas Nevalainen - a smart defenceman
Niklas Nevalainen - a smart defenceman

Assuming that most clubs at this level would want Petgrave back, it might be logical to assume Sheffield management would strongly consider the partner who secured the ice behind him, so successfully.

Nevalainen, who was second only to Petgrave in points per defencemen, told The Star: “Speaking as honestly as I can, I will be playing next year for sure, but don’t know where yet.

“I took a few weeks completely off after the season without even thinking about hockey.

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“Obviously now the things are heating up and I think and hope that it’s all settled in the next few weeks.”

Liam KirkLiam Kirk
Liam Kirk

The skater added: “Sheffield is one of the options for sure and I have talked with Foxy (coach Aaron Fox) a few times about it so let’s see where that goes.”

Meanwhile, Great Britain coach Pete Russell has paid tribute to Maltby’s Liam Kirk after he helped the national side gain promotion back into the world’s top flight.

GB won gold in the World Championship Division IA tournament in Nottingham, recently, a series in which Kirk was the second top point scorer with three goals and seven assists in five matches.

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The South Yorkshireman had more shots than any other skater.

Yet Russell believes the 23-year-old has still to reach his full potential.

“He is such a good hockey player and is also now becoming a man,” he said.

“He is still young and can get a little bit stronger.

“I think Liam is getting more mature now. He is growing up and has that certain something in him.

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“As a coach you look at him, before the next shift, and know he can go on and raise his level at key moments, he has that hunger in him.”

In match action, Kirk possesses such confidence that sometimes he passes or shoots in a situation that most fans wouldn’t expect.

“Every coach needs to have some high-risk players in your team, that’s what changes games” said Russell.

“Sometimes they make mistakes but you have to take the good with the bad.

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“Our team had the mentality that if we made a mistake we’d work together and make up for it.”

It is not clear where the 6ft 1ins forward, who was drafted by NHL franchise Arizona Coyotes in 2018, will play next year.

Coyotes retain Kirk’s services and played him on loan at three clubs, Tucson Roadrunners, Atlanta Gladiators and Finnish side Jukurit last year.

“Liam will have to have a good summer and then I’m sure he’ll go back to Arizona prospect camp and we’ll see where he ends up” said Russell.

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“He will do all he can to push his way in, (NHL contention) we’ll see what happens, but it is a long ride for him.

“I guess his injury (anterior cruciate ligament rupture, November 2021) put him back a bit but he went to Finland and got some great experience in a top league.

“We’ll see what he has got from that and how it has helped him.”

Russell said Kirk isn’t usually vocal in the changing room but added: “He is a good communicator, gets on with everyone. He always got a smile on his face and you think he is up to something!”

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The coach, whose German club side Ravensburg Towerstars also won the play offs this season, complimented Swinton-born goalie Ben Bowns, too, for his part in the GB promotion.

“Bownsy was just Bownsy. He played solid as did the team in front of him; he didn’t give up a lot against Italy and made a timely save before the puck went up the ice and we scored.”

*Steelers have followed Guildford Flames’ lead in declining a place in the forthcoming season’s Continental Cup.

Sheffield said they had to take into account ice time availability and their EIHL schedule.

Cardiff Devils will take part though, in the tournament which takes place in November.