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Liam Kirk joins German champions Eisbären Berlin on two-year deal

The Maltby-born forward transfers to the German champions after a standout season in Czechia, which culminated in a run to the playoff semi-finals with 13 points in 13 appearances.

Liam Kirk, Team GB / Eisbären Berlin (Image: Dean Woolley)

Team Great Britain star Liam Kirk has joined reigning Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) champions Eisbären Berlin on a multi-year contract, ending weeks of speculation about his future.

Berlin announced the 24-year-old’s arrival on Sunday [12 May], with Kirk departing HC Litvínov upon the expiry of his contract with the Czech Extraliga outfit.

The Maltby-born forward transfers to the German champions after a standout season in Czechia, which culminated in a run to the playoff semi-finals with 13 points (nine goals, four assists) in 13 appearances.

Kirk’s postseason performances saw him rank third in league-wide scoring behind HC Oceláři Třinec duo Libor Hudacek (16 points in 21 games) and David Cienciala (14 points in 21 games) and attract interest from teams across the continent.

“We are pleased that Liam is now playing for the Eisbären,” said Berlin sporting director Stéphane Richer.

“We couldn’t miss the opportunity to sign him. He will give our attack further class. Liam is a top striker who has already proven his goal-scoring qualities. He can play on the wing as well as in the centre position, which makes him versatile.”

Kirk boasts a wealth of professional experience for club and country, recording two points in Team GB’s IIHF World Championship opening loss to Canada on Saturday [11 May].

Liam Kirk, Arizona Coyotes (Image: NHL)

Liam Kirk, now of Eisbären Berlin (Image: NHL)

The former seventh round pick of the Arizona Coyotes returned to Europe after stints in the American Hockey League and ECHL in 2022, recording 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 25 Finnish Liiga appearances for Jukurit.

Kirk’s form in Finland resulted in his transfer to Litvínov, for whom he tallied 30 points (19 goals, 11 assists) in 52 regular-season appearances in a middle-six role.

“I am happy to become part of the Eisbären Berlin, an incredible and storied organization with outstanding fans,” Kirk said upon signing his two-year contract. “I can’t wait to get to Berlin and finally get started. Hopefully we can build on last season’s success together.”

Kirk is the Berliner’s fifth import signing of the summer, with a total of eleven foreign player spots available in the DEL.

Analysis: Eisbären Berlin is a fantastic landing spot for Liam Kirk

From his stints in Finland and Czechia, Liam Kirk has proven his ability to compete at a high level on the professional circuit.

The Czech Extraliga is a low-scoring league, but that didn’t stop him from leaving his mark in Litvínov by becoming an instant fan favourite thanks to his offensive exploits.

Kirk spent most of last season playing as a centreman, a position he hadn’t been asked to play since graduating from junior hockey, and took his new responsibilities in his stride.

He made progress in the face-off circle, bolstered his defensive attributes, and continued to score at a rate that saw him finish the season as the Extraliga’s 19th hottest goal-scorer — despite playing in a third-line role.

Kirk’s play in the playoffs was stunning and raised the possibility that he could earn a move to one of Europe’s top divisions, including the No. 1 ranked Swedish Hockey League.

Instead, the Yorkshireman is off to Eisbären Berlin to play in the DEL.

This move has split opinion amongst hockey fans, with critics arguing that Kirk could (or should) have sought a move to a stronger league.

There is credit to this viewpoint — the DEL’s on-ice product is arguably a step behind the standard on display in Czechia.

But it is overly reductive to argue Kirk’s move to Berlin is a backwards step in his career, especially when only a matter of weeks have passed since the Toronto Maple Leafs signed 26-year-old defender Nicolas Mattinen to a one-year contract following his standout performances for the DEL’s Straubing Tigers.

The DEL is on the rise, with a vibrant supporter culture, growing success in the Champions Hockey League, and impressive training facilities.

Crucially, the Eisbären are owned by AEG — the world’s largest owner of sports teams and events.

AEG’s list of clubs includes the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings.

While there is no guarantee that Kirk’s move to Berlin will slide him back onto the radar of North American scouts, playing for the Eisbären ticks a lot of boxes in terms of exposure, resources, and probability of silverware success.

There’s a lot to like about this news.

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