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Baltic Handball League
Group B takes centre stage during BHL weekend
The third Baltic Handball League weekend of the season wiil concentrate on Group B, as five out of seven matches will take place among the teams of that group. Three Estonian clubs will be visiting their Latvian and Lithuanian rivals, while in Group A last year's winner and runner-up Cocks Riihimäki and ZTR Zaporozhye are free this weekend.
As expected before the season, Group B has been very interesting so far. Half of the matches have ended with one team claiming one- or two-goal victories. VHC Šviesa Vilnius and HC Kehra Horizon/Pulp&Paper have won all three games, Celtnieks Riga has four points, HC Tallinn and Granitas-Karys Kaunas three, while Viljandi HC is still searching for first point.
In-form Kehra visits Vilnius and Kaunas
The first match of Group B on Saturday will immediately throw against each other two undefeated teams, as Šviesa will host Kehra. In the Lithuanian league last year's runner-up is currently leading without a defeat, but has not played competitive games for more than two weeks.
Kehra is definitely one of the in-form teams of BHL at the moment, having won the last 11 games in all competitions. On Thursday they beat SK Tapa 27:22 (Janar Mägi 8) in Estonian league and are currently two points behind leaders Serviti Põlva. Kehra has not met their Group B co-leaders Šviesa since 2017/18 season, when both teams won at home.
"We have a tough period coming up – two matches in BHL, then Serviti in the league and cup Final Four next weekend. Unfortunately we lost one of our key players Dmytro Yankovskiy through knee injury, so mostly I hope we can keep players fit throughout this period," admits Kehra's head coach Mart Raudsepp.
"Lithuanian teams are very strong and play aggressively. So we have to play smart and not trying to match them in their physical game. Motivation inside the team is very high, we are really looking forward to the games in Baltic league, as these are so different from domestic league matches," said Raudsepp.
Curiously, despite being long-time participants of the BHL, Kehra and Granitas last time met more than 6,5 years ago. In the season 2012/13 Kehra defeated their Sunday's opponent home and away. Though, this summer the teams played twice in pre-season tournaments with similar results.
Lepp: Lithuanians have aggressive defending in their DNA
On Sunday, Šviesa will meet HC Tallinn, who the day before visit Kaunas to play against Granitas-Karys. Tallinn suffered a loss in the domestic league top clash on Wednesday, being beaten by champions Serviti Põlva 29:23 (Kaspar Lees 7).
Estonian cup-winner would like to turn their fortunes around in BHL, having lost to Celtnieks 30:29 and Kehra 27:25. In last BHL season Tallinn played twice against the two Lithuanian opponents and in all four matches it was a home team who won. In August, Tallinn and Granitas-Karys met in Tallinn Handball Cup and Estonian side took a 25:23 win.
"We have played against Lithuanian clubs this season, losing to Kauno Ažuolas-KTU in the EHF Challenge Cup, so we know how strong is their local league. Lithuanians have aggressive defending written in their DNA and they will always fight until the end. So these two games will be very hard," commented Risto Lepp, Tallinn's head coach.
"On Wednesday, we played 45 minutes very well, controlled the game, but then Serviti had an extra gear and we did not. But strong opponents are the best for us, as this will develop our players. So we are looking forward to BHL matches and hoping to add some points, as our goal is to finish in the top two of Group B," added Lepp.
Granitas-Karys has struggled a little bit in the domestic league this season and lie in sixth place, already six points behind leaders Šviesa. However, on Wednesday they took a 41:36 away win over HC Utena (Marijus Gudeika 10).
Viljandi travels to Riga, Serviti to Minsk
The fifth Group B match will finish the weekend on Sunday, as Celtnieks hosts Viljandi HC. Both teams had comfortable wins in midweek, as Celtnieks beat Jurmalas Sports 42:28 (Aliaksei Haisa 14) and Viljandi beat Aruküla/Audentes 34:23 with local legend Kristo Järve returned to the field scoring eight goals.
In Group A, only two matches take place this weekend. On Saturday, ZRHK Tenax Dobele will host Dragunas Klaipeda as Latvian and Lithuanian champions will meet for the first time this season. Tenax had a gamefree week, while Dragunas took a 32:27 win (Žanas Gabrielius Virbauskas 8) in domestic league over Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus.
Minsk's House of Handball will be the stage for two long-serving BHL teams to meet on Sunday. SKA Minsk is currently leading Group A with two wins and a draw, as Serviti Põlva has just one point from two games so far.
On Wednesday, both teams enjoyed domestic success. SKA defeated Kronon Grodno away 42:23 (Yulian Hiryk 9) and Serviti beat HC Tallinn 29:23 (Mathias Rebane 6). Obviously the two teams have met numerous times in BHL, but last time they played in Minsk was back in January 2015 and the game ended in a 31:31 draw.
On photo: HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper has a 11-game winning streak in all competitions going into BHL weekend. (Photo: Helin Potter/BHL).