Team Great Britain bowed out of the 2021 IIHF World Championship with a 6-3 defeat against world-class Swiss opposition. Once again, Arizona Coyotes draftee Liam Kirk played a pivotal role for the Brits, scoring twice and registering an assist in his best performance of the tournament.
With the game tied 2-2 after 25 minutes of play, Switzerland snapped into gear by scoring four goals in seven minutes to put the game out of reach for Team GB.
The first period ended with Switzerland leading 2-1 thanks to goals from Romain Loeffel and Gregory Hoffman, with Kirk opening his account for the afternoon on 11 minutes.
After the break, Kirk added to his tally with a game-tying powerplay goal, capitalising on a rebound following neat play by Team GB in the offensive zone.
However, goals from Santeri Alatalo, Christoph Bertschy (x 2), and New Jersey Devils associate captain Nico Hischier saw Great Britain enter the second intermission trailing 6-2.
Despite how the final score reads, it was a good afternoon for both of Great Britain’s goalies, with Bowns saving 35 of the 41 shots he faced and Whistle stopping all 12 of the attempts on his goal.
With Whistle keeping Switzerland off the box score in the final period, the game’s final act occurred at the other end of the ice.
Assisted by Kirk and Mike Hammond, Brendan Connolly scored Great Britain’s final goal of the tournament with six minutes remaining.
We wanted to prove that we can still play at this level and I think we’ve done that.”
In an interview following the final buzzer, Kirk said: “We knew there’s no relegation this year but we wanted to prove that we can still play at this level and I think we’ve done that.”
At the end of the group stage, Team GB finish the IIHF World Championship with a 1-5-1 record, securing four points thanks to their victory over Belarus and overtime defeat against Denmark. As a result, Great Britain finish the group stage 14th in the standings, ahead of Belarus and Italy.
Analysis: Liam Kirk, a star is born.
Whisper it quietly or shout it from the rooftops – but say this after me.
Team Great Britain has made history at the 2021 IIHF World Championship in Latvia.
For the first time since the 1960s, the Brits won a top-flight game in regulation time, defeating Belarus 4-3 thanks to goals from Liam Kirk (x 2), Ben Davies, and Mike Hammond.
Great Britain end the competition with four points, a historic haul for a team that was participating in the third tier in 2017.
However, the most significant development of the tournament relates to one player alone.
Kirk arrived in Latvia with everything to prove and a lot to lose. If he performed poorly under the spotlight, his NHL dream would have immediately flatlined.
Fortunately, the opposite happened.
Kirk finishes the group stage as the World Championship’s most prolific goal-scorer, finding twine seven times in as many games.
Moreover, the only player to register more points than Kirk in the group stage is Canada’s Connor Brown, a player with 177 points in 380 NHL appearances.
That’s the kind of company Kirk, a 21-year-old from Yorkshire, was keeping in Latvia. He was competing against players with NHL, KHL, and SHL experience. He never looked out of place.
Frankly, that is an astonishing achievement for a player who was forced to sit out much of the 2020/21 season due to the pandemic.
Kirk’s performances in Latvia should have piqued the Arizona Coyotes’ interest. The Phoenix-based NHL franchise drafted Kirk in 2018 and is running out of time to put the Maltby native into action. This is a player who just broke his nation’s single tournament scoring record, has an exemplary record in junior hockey, and shoulders the expectation of a nation.
If not in Arizona, Liam Kirk has a bright future. Remember the name.