HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper
Which team will win Baltic Handball League 2019?
News / BHL resumes with all 12 teams in action
Baltic Handball League
BHL resumes with all 12 teams in action
Baltic Handball League will resume for the first matches of 2019 this week, as all twelve clubs will spring into action over three days. Second half of the regular season is under way and points are more valuable than ever with teams determined to qualify for the Final Four or quarter-finals.
As things stand, we can expect a very interesting winter months, as January and February are packed with games and situation in both groups is exciting. To remind, BHL has a new system in place with Group A winner qualifying directly to Final Four and next four move to quarter-finals to be joined by two best teams from Group B.
SKA Minsk made changes to the team
Two teams currently leading the way in Group A, ZTR Zaporozhye and SKA Minsk will make a long travel to Klaipeda and Põlva. The Belarussians will play Dragunas on Friday and Serviti on Sunday, while ZTR makes the trip vice-versa. In November, SKA beat both this week's opponents, but ZTR suffered their only loss of the season against Dragunas.
Three-time BHL champions SKA has made changes to the team over the winter-break. Formerly key players Aliaksei Khadkevich and Hleb Harbuz were released from the team and they signed a right-back Bogdan Cherkashchenko from their Group A rivals ZTR. Last week SKA played three friendlies in Ukraine, losing all three, including 31:34 to ZTR (Yulyan Hiryk 11 goals).
"We had some problems with injuries and illnesses in Ukraine, but most of the players are now fit and ready for this week," commented SKA's head coach Ihar Papruha. "Opponents are strong, but we are going for victories. These are important matches, but our club's philosophy is that every match and every point is important, so this will be our approach."
Besides beating SKA in a friendly, ZTR resumed the matches in Ukrainian league on Tuesday and had an easy day in the office. ZTR beat SKA Lviv by 50:13 (Kyrylo Korielov and Dmytro Ilchenko 9). In addition to losing Cherkashchenko to SKA Minsk, ZTR also transferred left-back Oleksii Shcherbak to reserve team of ZTR-Burevestnik.
Serviti still searching for their game
The opponents of SKA and ZTR also returned to domestic league action on winning mode. Dragunas Klaipeda took an easy home win over HC Utena by 49:21 (Alain Romero Eyebe 9), while last season's runner-up Serviti Põlva defeated another BHL-team, Viljandi HC by 32:23 (Henri Sillaste 6).
"First match of the year was a comfortable win over Viljandi and I managed to share playing time, but it will be a lot tougher now. SKA and ZTR are both extremely strong teams, especially the Ukrainians having played together in the same line-up for so long. We are still searching our game this season and I hope it's starting to come together," commented Serviti's head coach Kalmer Musting.
The remaining match in Group A will take place in Riihimäki, as title-holder Cocks will try and get back to winning after losing to both SKA and ZTR at home in December. HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper will come for a visit and Estonian side is still looking for points, having lost all six games so far this season.
Cocks had a tough domestic league match on Wednesday, being six goals down in the first half, but still beating BK-46 Karjaa by 24:23 (Teemu Tamminen 6). Kehra has created a logistical nightmare, as they play an Estonian league game on Thursday evening in Põlva against Coop, before meeting Cocks in Riihimäki less than 24 hours later.
Nils Kreicbergs saying goodbye to Tenax before a move to Cocks
Group B has an interesting situation, where top three teams are separated by only one point after the first half of the regular season. Current leaders HC Tallinn will host two Latvian teams over the weekend – in September Estonians came back from Latvia with a win over Celtnieks Riga and losing to ZRHK Tenax Dobele.
Tallinn started the 2019 with a 39:16 league win over Aruküla/Audentes (Rainer Kelk and Markus Viitkar 6). Also hosting the southern neighbours, Viljandi are still looking for the first points this season. In away matches back in September, Viljandi lost by four goals to Celtnieks and by five to Tenax. 2019 did not start well either, as in Estonian league match Viljandi lost to Serviti 23:32 (Volodymyr Maslak 6).
Celtnieks had a good start to the year, defeating MSG/LAT-Hertz by 37:27 (Rihards Leja and Artis Kurmens 10), while Tenax will open the new year on Saturday. Latvian champion will say goodbye this weekend to Nils Kreicbergs. The left-back, currently third in BHL's scoring charts, will move to BHL-rivals Cocks on Monday.
"We had an agreement with Cocks, that Nils can play for us this weekend," confirmed Sandris Veršakovs, the head coach of Tenax. "It is important, as we do miss Kristaps Krivmanis and Andis Ermanis, plus Nikita Pančenko is doubtful for this trip."
Veršakovs is not worried about lack of match practice: "These will be our first matches of 2019, but we have been training well after some rest over Christmas. The group standings are very interesting and I am sure it will be decided only in last matches. It's always difficult to play in Estonia, but we are ready."
There's a Lithuanian-derby on Saturday, as VHC Šviesa Vilnius hosts Granitas-Karys Kaunas. The teams have met on numerous occasions this season, including in the EHF Challenge Cup. The BHL-match in September was won by Šviesa 30:26. In midweek, both teams took victories in Lithuanian league – Šviesa beat SM Dubysa Šiauliai 38:14 (Valdas Drabavičius 13) and Granitas defeated HC Vilnius 31:30 (Paulius Šarkauskas 9).
On photo: "Old friends" Serviti Põlva and SKA Minsk will meet again on Sunday. (Photo: Helin Potter).