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News / Perfect start for Cocks and Kehra

Baltic Handball League

2019.09.30 13:04

Perfect start for Cocks and Kehra

Ten teams were in action during the first full weekend of 2019/20 Baltic Handball League. Two clubs made a perfect start, as title-holder Cocks Riihimäki and former winner HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper took two wins out of two. VHC Šviesa Vilnius and SKA Minsk are the other two undefeated teams, having played just one match.

Many of the coaches and specialists have predicted a tight and even regular season in both groups. The first weekend did not disappoint – one draw, two minimal victories and in only one match the goal margin was bigger than +5. On four occasions the team who was leading at half-time, did not win the match.

Gintaras Savukynas: not an easy weekend

Four-time winner Cocks started with a replay of last year's final against ZTR Zaporozhye and did not have it easy. The Ukrainians were leading 13:11 after the first half, but the unstoppable last year's Final Four MVP Nico Rönnberg turned the match in Finnish side favour and Cocks won 32:28 (Rönnberg 10 – Andrii Akimenko 9 goals).

The day later, it was similar, as ZRHK Tenax Dobele ran into a 8:5 lead. Cocks came back, took a 13:12 advantage by half-time and once again cruised to a 27:22 win (Aleksandar Gugleta 7 – Nikita Pančenko 7). "Not on easy weekend," was the first comment from Cocks' head coach Gintaras Savukynas.

"These were third and fourth match inside 8 days for us and it showed. On Saturday we started well, but so did ZTR and only in the second half took control, scored with very good percentage and had good help from our goalkeeper," reviewed Savukynas the first match.

"It was a different story on Sunday. The tiredness showed and we were not ready from the start. We made seven technical faults inside opening 20 minutes. At least all ended well for us and the players showed good fighting spirit. I was also happy to see many of the newcomers getting into the team better and better," said Savukynas.

Match of the weekend: Tallinn v Celtnieks

On Sunday, HC Tallinn and Celtnieks Riga – runners-up of last season's Estonian and Latvian leagues – produced quite an exciting match. The Latvians run off to a 6:1 lead inside nine minutes. In the 22nd minute they still led comfortably 13:8, but the hosts fought back and took a 15:14 half-time lead.

Incredibly, starting from 28th minute until the final whistle not once did one of the teams have more than a one-goal advantage. The lead changed hands a total of eight times, but it was Celtnieks who came out on top after Roberts Freibergs scored the winning goal with 40 seconds to play. Latvians won 30:29 (Aliaksei Haisa 8 – Marek Karu 6).

"We lacked concentration at the start, but got back into the game well. We had hopes of outrunning the opponents, but it did not happen. And Celtnieks' playmaker Haisa showed us a great lesson how to lead the game and how to pass to pivot, he was fantastic. All-in-all we did get two good matches ahead of EHF Challenge Cup," commented Risto Lepp, Tallinn's head coach.

"Unfortunately we did not have the full squad available and thus could not benefit from all the hard work made in trainings. But even if the quality of handball was not as high as we hoped, I am very happy with the fighting spirit and teamwork against Tallinn, especially in end of the match," admitted Celtnieks' team manager Normunds Blome.

Both teams also played on Saturday with Tallinn taking their opening win relatively easily, beating Viljandi HC 26:17 (Kaspar Lees 6 – Mikk Varik and Raiko Roosna 3). Celtnieks at the same time lost to HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper by 28:32 (Haisa and Artis Kurmens 7 – Dmytro Yankovskiy 8).

Thrilling end of matches in Põlva and Kaunas

Kehra's win over Celtnieks was team's first after March 2018, as playing last season in Group A they lost all ten matches. Kehra took the early lead in Group B, as on Sunday the former BHL winner beat Viljandi HC 31:26 (Sergio-Silver Kreegimaa and Vladyslav Naumenko 9 – Varik 6).

Elsewhere, in Group A, another former BHL winner Serviti Põlva had a rough start at home. On Saturday Estonian champion had 20:16 lead in the 35th minute, but ZRHK Tenax Dobele put up an excellent fight, squeezed ahead by 44th minute and did not let it go. Latvian champions eventually won 31:29 (Pančenko 6 – Alfred Timmo 5).

Day later, Serviti welcomed ZTR to Mesikäpa Hall and for the most of the match, Estonians were chasing. Great fight and fantastic goalkeeping from Eston Varusk brought the game to a 23:23 draw (Anatoli Chezlov 9 – Akimenko and Dmytro Ilchenko 5). Serviti's veteran goalkeeper saved Akimenko's penalty throw after the final whistle to secure the point.

An all-Lithuanian clash on Saturday also produced a thrilling finale. VHC Šviesa Vilnius was at times leading by four goals, but at the start of the second half Granitas-Karys Kaunas scored five unanswered goals and went ahead. The hosts Granitas led almost until the end, but last season's BHL top scorer Karolis Antanavičius turned the match for Šviesa with 12 seconds to go, scoring for 26:25 (Antanavičius 8 – Tadas Bučinskas 12).

On photo: Tenax's left-handed Nikita Pančenko scored six goals against Serviti and seven against Cocks during the weekend. (Foto: Helin Potter/BHL).