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Now let's pick up where we left off; Ice hockey.

Byline: ANDY BAXTER

BILLINGHAM Stars aim to start 2012 as they finished 2011 when they return from their festive lay-off with a year-opening double header.

The current ENL One North leaders are in cup action tonight in Scotland against unbeaten ENL Two North leaders the Solway Sharks.

They then return to home ice tomorrow when they host Nottingham Lions (face-off 6.30pm).

Billingham coach Stephen Foster knows his side face a tough call against the Scots, who have been lethal in attack and miserly in defence and beat the visitors at the back end of last year.

"Solway are punching well above their weight in ENL Two," he said.

"If they were in the first division I am sure they would be looking for honours.

"They have been getting some big scores in ENL Two. They are used to winning and have hit 208 goals in 16 games and conceded only 28.

"We know that to get a result, we will have to find a way to shut down their forwards.

"We haven't faced too many teams to date that have the confidence and offensive talent of Solway.

"We last played Solway in September and they won by a single goal, and I expect just as tight a game this weekend."

Billingham have got straight back into hard training after their holiday break and intend to maintain their progress in both league and cup.

They are also been boosted by the returns of Andy Fletcher and Andy Thornton from injury.

"We are looking to compete in all the competitions we have entered this season, cup or league, so Solway can expect a competitive game," Foster continued.

"With stats like Solway's it's almost certain they will be moving into our league next year. I am looking forward to some exciting games between the two clubs, he added.

Tomorrow's visitors Nottingham caused a stir when they ended the Stars' unbeaten 13-game run with a 3-2 victory, although Billingham bounced back to extend their lead at the top of the ENL One table to seven points.

Foster and fellow coach Terry Ward are delighted to be opening the year in such a strong position, but Ward has warned the Stars that they need to remain focused until the final game.

"We still face some big games - other teams are hitting form so we can't take anything for granted," he said.

"Losing to Nottingham hurt but we know where we went wrong and we have moved on. Having said that, we know we can't relax until the final whistle of the final game."

Foster confirmed the Stars are now injury-free and feels they can flourish with a clean bill of health.

"Everyone is fit, and ready to go," he added. "I'm confident that with the backing of our excellent supporters the lads will be bringing some silverware to Billingham in the next three months."

CAPTION(S):

CRUNCH: Billingham's Alex Lawson collides with Ciaran Quinn during the Stars' 3-2 defeat to Nottingham Lions earlier this season - now the teams are set to clash again as the battle for ENL One North glory hots upPicture by COLIN LAWSON
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 7, 2012
Words:522
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