Liam Kirk reassigned to ECHL’s Atlanta Gladiators: Explained

Team Great Britain forward Liam Kirk has been reassigned to the EHCL’s Atlanta Gladiators by the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners.

Kirk, who returned to the ice this summer after months away with a serious knee injury, was healthy scratched by the Roadrunners until the eleventh game of the season, in which they were beaten comfortably by the Coachella Valley Firebirds.

In his rookie season with the Roadrunners, the 22-year-old recorded three points (two goals, one assist) in appearances, but saw his campaign cut short by an injury he suffered on the road versus the Henderson Silver Knights.

The former seventh-round pick is in the second season of a three-year entry-level contract with the Arizona Coyotes.

What is the ECHL?

The ECHL, formerly known as the East Coast Hockey League, is North America’s third tier.

Initially, the competition featured five teams from four states but has since developed into a coast-to-coast league with franchises in the USA and Canada.

Now, the ECHL is split into four divisions of seven teams and culminates with the Kelly Cup Playoffs – which was lifted by the Florida Everblades last season.

Liam Kirk, Atlanta Gladiators: Florida Everblades, 2021-22 Kelly Cup Champions (Image: ECHL)

Many of the Elite League’s top players have featured in the ECHL, including Belfast Giants forward Scott Conway, Cardiff Devils defenceman Marcus Crawford, and Sheffield Steelers netminder Matt Greenfield.

Who are the Atlanta Gladiators?

Founded in 1995, the Atlanta Gladiators play in the ECHL’s South Division and play their home fixtures at the 13,100-capacity Gas South Arena.

The Gladiators are affiliated with the Arizona Coyotes and Tucson Roadrunners, which allows the Duluth-based franchise to ice players contracted to those clubs.

Atalanta returned to the playoffs after six seasons away last term but were swept in the first round by the Jacksonville Icemen.

After the first two months of play in 2022-23, the Gladiators sit fourth in their division with a 6-4-1 record under head coach Jeff Pyle.

Jeff Pyle, Atlanta Gladiators (Image: ECHL)
Jeff Pyle, Atlanta Gladiators (Image: ECHL)

Kirk will join an experienced squad in Atlanta, with netminder David Tendick and defenceman Bode Wilde the only other NHL-contracted prospects on the roster.

Kirk is expected to debut for the Gladiators on Friday [25 November] versus the Savannah Ghost Pirates.

What does reassignment mean for Liam Kirk?

For Kirk, the bottom line is simple: he must see lots of ice time if he wants to fulfil his potential.

Unfortunately, he fell out of favour with the Roadrunners and was unable to secure the role or minutes he needs to develop into the player the Coyotes (and Team GB) expect him to become.

He should therefore relish the opportunity to play a top-six role with the Gladiators, despite the extra stresses that come attached to life in the ECHL.

Liam Kirk, Arizona Coyotes (Image: NHL)
Liam Kirk, Arizona Coyotes (Image: NHL)

Kirk’s day-to-day reality in Atalanta will be different to his situation in Tucson, not least because he will be expected to be an impact player for the Gladiators.

Clearly, it isn’t ideal for the 22-year-old to drop into the third tier. But he has already stared down adversity in his short career and has the opportunity to bounce back from injury and demotion in Duluth.

It’s time for Kirk to prove his doubters – the Roadrunners included – wrong.