Sheffield Steelers have confirmed the signings of GB youngsters Cole Shudra and Liam Kirk on three-year full-time apprentice contracts.
The duo, both products of the Sheffield Academy, have iced this season for Sheffield Steeldogs in the EPL and have spent the past three months training with the Steelers.
Head Coach Paul Thompson said: “This is an exciting announcement. I think everyone knows how upset and frustrated we were last year when the Elite U20 programme didn’t materialise.
“We saw that as the best way of bringing the best young local talent through into the professional game. When that fell through we sought to find the best youngsters ourselves and invited them to come and skate with the Steelers these past few months.
“The apprenticeship scheme will involve both young men being full-time hockey players skating and working out every day and also combining this with their education.
“We have been very impressed with these two boys. We have pushed and worked them hard. They have shown that not only do they have ability but also the hunger and desire to become professional players.
“They both possess size, skill and a talent for the game. Our job is to take these two highly talented boys and make them professionals.”
Both Shudra and Kirk have represented England at U16, U18 and U20 level and they’ve also been chosen by Great Britain U18 for the upcoming World Championship tournament.
Shudra is the son of former Steelers defenseman Ron Shudra and he says it was an emotional moment when he saw his son wear the club’s jersey for the first time.
“I’m very proud of Cole and Liam – they are both great kids and have worked hard to earn this opportunity,” he said.
“Of course over the years I’ve been a hands-on parent, but when Cole had the opportunity to regularly skate with the Steelers this year I took a step back. Cole didn’t need the old man about.
“It’s funny when I watch him I do see a lot of me, I don’t know why but he does skate like I used to and he has got good vision. He doesn’t panic and is calm. They say that was my game.
“Paul has this vision of bringing the kids through and taking them really young rather than when they have played a few years in the EPL. I see what he is trying to do, mould them early.
“I know Liam and Cole have enjoyed their time playing with the pros, going up against them. Now they get to do it full-time.
“When I saw Cole put his Shudra Steelers shirt on I did feel a bit of a lump in my throat. Then Dean (Woolley) took Cole on one side for the photo of him looking up at the retired 26 shirt.
“It’s at times like these that memories come flooding back – great memories.
“Cole used to come running into that dressing room as a young kid annoying all of the other players.
“Now, a little like Ben O’Connor coming back, he has the chance to sit in that same room as a Steeler. That’s pretty cool don’t you think?”
(Image permission: Dean Woolley)