ICE HOCKEY: FLINTSHIRE Freeze coach Mark Stokes will have to alter his pre-season planning following the demise of Manchester Phoenix.
The Elite League side have decided to take a year out of the game after failing to secure a deal which would allow them to continue playing their home games at the MEN Arena, leaving them effectively homeless.
The Freeze have had close links with the Phoenix and were in talks with them to become a feeder club for the professional outfit.
Stokes said: 'From a personal point of view it's disappointing because our link-up has given, and would continue to give, a chance for players from my team to go and play at a higher level.
'It's a shame that the relationship will have to end for now and what it does mean is that a number of the Phoenix players will be looking for new clubs, and some of them will want to come back here.'
Ex-Freeze players Mark Lovell, Aaron Davies and Dave Clancy could be lined up for a return, although Stokes admitted these players should be playing at the highest level.
However, Stokes does see the obvious benefits if they were to rejoin the Freeze as they bid to defend their English Division One National League title. 'If they come back I will be able to rest players for games, which is something I've not been able to do in the past,' explained the coach.
'What it definitely does mean is that there'll be an increased competition for places.'
Yet the added quantity and quality will leave Stokes facing a massive selection headache, so much so that the squad may need to be cut before the season's first face-off.
Stokes said: 'In August I may have to pick a first side for the Freeze, which will mean me telling some players they are in and telling others they're not needed.
'That's going to be tough but that's my job, and that's what I'm here for. The only thing that matters is the team, and we want to regain our title.' The draft fixtures for Freeze's 2004-05 league campaign are: Sept 19 Bradford (H); Sept 26 Sheffield (A); Oct 9 Kingston (A); Oct 17 Whitley Bay (H); Nov 7 Bradford (A); Nov 14 Whitley Bay (A); Nov 21 Kingston (H); Dec 5 Nottingham (H); Dec 12 Billingham (H); Jan 15 Sunderland (A); Jan 23 Sheffield (H), Jan 30 Billingham (A); Feb 6 Blackburn (A); Feb 13 Sunderland (H); Feb 27 Blackburn (H).