On March 30, Neil Morris and Mike Petrouis, co-directors of developers nIce Leisure, broke the ground on the site of the new ice rink in Altrincham, to cheers from ice hockey fans.
It marks the end of a long road for Manchester Phoenix who were forced to hang up their skates two years ago after leaving the MEN Arena.
|Ground-breaking: at the new rink|
But now construction has begun on the new Trafford Ice Dome on Oldfield Road behind Altrincham station. The new venue will have 2000 seats for spectators - with room for another 400 standing - and is being built by to plans almost identical to the rink pictured above in Finland.
And if all goes to plan, Manchester's skaters, ice dancers and hockey players could be back on the ice in July this year. So what does it all mean for Manchester Phoenix?
We spoke to Phoenix spokesman Andy Costigan:
It's been a long wait. How does it feel knowing that work has begun?
"It has indeed been longer than we initiallly envisaged, but they say everything comes to he who waits. So we waited and now we believe we are on the right path to a bright new future not only for the hockey club but, for the leisure and recreational uses of a public ice facility too."
Are you glad to be returning to Altrincham?
"As someone who grew up watching hockey in the old Devonshire Road ice rink, it is almost poetic justice in my eyes that the new rink is sited in Altrincham. A lot of people fell in love with hockey in the old building and lots more enjoyed their leisure skating there too. It was a sad day when Devonshire Road closed and the area lost its ice rink, but that's all behind us now and the new rink should cater for just about everybody."
What's happened to Manchester Phoenix since you stopped playing?
|"With a new rink to call our home... we believe the prospects are good for the club next season. "|
|Andy Costigan, Manchester Phoenix|
"At the end of the first season of the Phoenix, when we reluctantly accepted that to continue in the big arena was not feasible, all the players and the coaching staff were released from their contracts in order to seek gainful employment elsewhere. Without a home rink, there was no point in keeping anybody employed in any team roles as their simply wasn't a team. We keep in touch with some of the former players and staff and you never know what the summer might bring in terms of possible returnees to the new Phoenix team."
Where do the team train - and when did you last play?
"There is no training as this summer will see us bring in a new coach and it will be his job to recruit a new team. Our last fixture was the playoff semi-final two years ago against the Nottingham Panthers. we'd done incredibly well to make the semi-final as we were carrying a lot of injuries, and those caught up with us as we lost 6-1... we have a debt to re-pay on that score alone when we come back next season."
Is there still a lot of interest in the game in Manchester?
|Plans for the new ice rink|
"We fully intend to re-introduce the Phoenix Schools Roadshow and it is an aspect that we expect the players of the team to get involved with fully. Taking the game to the schools and getting the kids interested in skating first and then hockey is the future lifeblood of the sport, as well as a great recreational outlet for the kids energy. Most players expect to do this kind of work in the community and the Phoenix will certainly be active in this area."
How is the search going for a new Head Coach?
"It's gone very well indeed. From advertising the position over the Christmas and New Year period, we received an eventual total of 41 applicants from here in the UK, in Europe and North America. Eventually, we managed to whittle it down to very strong final six to choose. We interviewed all six and that became three and eventually one. We've had very productive talks with the candidate and we expect to make the announcement in a couple of weeks. He is currently with a team still playing so we can't name him yet. Suffice to say though, we are very pleased and are very confident that the Phoenix fan base will be happy with the person selected."
When do you move into the new rink?
"All being well and allowing for no unforeseen delays, we expect to be in the new rink, hopefully in late August or early September. depending upon the opening dates of the new season and when the players will arrive and assemble in Manchester might see us need to hold a pre-season training camp elsewhere, but we'll cross that bridge when we get a better idea of a completion date for the new rink."
what are the prospects for Phoenix in the Elite League?
"We believe the prospects are good for the club next season. We have a new rink to call our home for practice and games, we have a re-energised fan base, we'll have a new coach and a largely new group of players and we will go into the new season confident of making our mark. We're ambitious as a club, but not unrealistic. We know we have to play a certain amount of catch-up having not iced a team for two seasons and so, we're not setting any unattainable goals in the first year. The whole venture for us is a long-term deal. We want to build our club sensibly and progressively.
Naturally, we want to win trophies and show off silverware but, not many teams do that in their first season and if you do, you only succeed in putting yourself under more pressure for subsequent seasons. We've already discussed with the new coach where we'd like to be at the end of next season and he is confident he can recruit and train a team to achieve that. If he exceeds these expectations, then that's great but, we 're not demanding a trophy next season... but if one comes along, we'll be delighted.
In the long-term however, we do want to be a team and a club that challenges for honours every season but, if it takes a couple of years to build that mentality and the infrastructure to support that, then so be it."