ICE HOCKEY: NOTTINGHAM Lions derailed Flintshire Freeze's play-off bandwagon at the National Ice Centre in Nottingham on Saturday.
The 6-4 defeat left the Welshmen requiring a minor miracle in their bid to finish top of their northern section group to qualify for the English League Division One final.
To stand any chance of achieving their goal, they need to beat current leaders Sheffield Scimitars home and away this weekend and hope the Yorkshiremen then slip up in their final game against Blackburn Hawks.
After the Nottingham defeat, Freeze player-coach Mark Stokes reserved his post-match fury for referee Kim Lawley, who sent-off Russ Richardson and dished out a rash of 10-minute penalties to visiting players in the second period.
Said Stokes: 'Myself, Pete Founds, Billy Price and Simon Mills were all given 10-minute penalties that were extremely harsh. We were questioning the referee's decisions and the way he was running the game, and he didn't seem to like that. Even the Nottingham coaches were shaking their heads in disbelief at some of the decisions he made.'
The first period was an even affair, with the visitors taking the lead through Brian Worrell, only to go 2-1 down before Stokes equalised.
Mills made it 3-2 in the second session but that's when the Freeze began to lose patience with referee Lawley. With key Freeze players keeping each other company in the penalty box, the Lions roared back to lead 4-3 going into the final session.
The hosts stretched their lead to 6-3 before the Freeze, returning to full strength, hit back with Stokes' second of the night.
The Freeze's Canadian player-coach added: 'If the match had gone on five minutes longer, I reckon we'd have snatched the win. We paid the price for having too many good players out of the game during the final two periods.'
Stokes has verbally agreed to remain as player-coach with the Freeze in 2004-05, despite claiming at the start of the season that he would quit at the end of this campaign.
Freeze travel to Sheffield tomorrow before entertaining the Scimitars at Deeside on Sunday (6.30pm). After the match, the squad will be presented with their ED1 championship medals by EIHA chairman Bill Britten.