The Sheffield kids' coach who set Kirk on his way to the NHL with Arizona Coyotes

When Liam Kirk takes to the ice as an NHL player - a prospect that now seems increasingly likely in north America - there will be a Sheffield IT consultant sat watching from the stands.

Tuesday, 22nd June 2021, 10:59 am

Paul Britton may have a regular job in technology during the day. But he is also the ice hockey coach who has arguably done more than any other in developing the supreme talents of the 21-year-olD Maltby lad who now has the world at his feet.

Britton was Kirk's team coach for three years at under 10s, two years at under 12s then a year at u14s at Sheffield Academy.

And he'd helped him along the path even earlier at that - taking him through the formative steps required when Kirk was around six.

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The slick skater recently learned that the Arizona Coyotes, who drafted him in the seventh round in 2018, had offered him an NHL entry-level contract. It's a huge breakthrough.

Britton recalls Kirk, as a six year old, having an ability that was "streets ahead of anybody his age.

"Even at that age, his all-round skating ability,speed, agility, his hands, everything he was way ahead. Nobody could touch him.

"I remember him scoring a hat trick in ONE shift! The strange thing is that people started to get almost accustomed to stuff that he did" said Britton, now aged 52.

Paul Britton and the U12s: Liam Kirk circled.
Paul Britton and the U12s: Liam Kirk circled.

"He'd dance through five players, score an amazing goal, the team on the bench would be on their feet, he'd look up at the crowd and jokingly ask: 'Where is the love?'

"Everybody expected something remarkable from him...'It's just Kirky.'

"I won two national championships with him on my team, four or five league titles; I don't know how many tournaments.

"He was so good that other kids would try and emulate them. They got better and he grew the entire team."

Sheffield Academy U4s team, including Kirk.

Britton believes Kirk's parents Matt and Mo are a key part in his success story.

"They are down-to-earth, regular people. It is where he gets his fantastic attitude from, I think. They help him, but don't push him as they don't have to. He just loves the sport and wants to do it.

"Matt and Mo always seem quite grateful for what I did. When he left juniors Matt bought me a bottle of whisky to say thank you, which was very nice.

"I don't ever claim to have had a significant part in his success because if somebody else had coached him he would probably have turned out the same.

Modern day Liam Kirk, playing for GB. Pic: Dean Woolley

"I am just dead chuffed for him. I hope I did help a little and if I did I am over the moon for him.

"We had a running joke when he was a junior that when he played his first game in the NHL I want tickets! He was probably an u12 then - but I keep reminding him."

Britton says whoever gets to coach Kirk next is in for a treat.

"For a coach he is a dream. You'd give your right arm for a player like him. If you say 'Do this,' he does it. He just listens and does what you want like it's second nature."