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News / SKA's Ihar Papruha: Group A is very even and strong
Baltic Handball League
SKA's Ihar Papruha: Group A is very even and strong
The second full weekend of new season's Baltic Handball League is ahead and ten teams will play nine matches allover the Baltic States, as matches are taking place in Klaipeda, Dobele, Riga, Tallinn and Viljandi. Three teams are still without points and they are surely eager whipe the zero off from the league table.
The "weekend" is extended to three days, as Dragunas Klaipeda and SKA Minsk will play already on Friday. Curiously, so early in the season, but it is the second time the teams meet. In the opening match of the season on 22nd September, SKA beat the Lithuanian champion at home 30:23.
Juškenas happy with opponents showing respect to all parties
Last season's Final Four participant – losing to SKA by one goal in the bronze medal match – Dragunas has been unbeaten in domestic league. On Wednesday, they defeated HC Vilnius away 38:28 with Žanas Gabrielijus Virbauskas scoring nine goals. Besides the match against SKA, the Lithuanian side will also host ZTR Zaporozhye on Sunday.
"We are doing well in the league, though so far have not met the strongest teams. Vilnius did provide a bit more opposition, while now we have two very strong opponents coming to Klaipeda. Obviously four points is our target, but we would be happy with two as well," said Dragunas's head coach Arturas Juškenas.
"Group A looks very tough this season and it is hard to see where to get the points. We have to be at our best in every match and even hope to have a little luck on our side. Our goal is not to finish sixth in the regular season and thus leave us a chance to fight for a place in the Final Four," added the experienced coach.
"We played SKA in Minsk and it was clear they are strong. At any point of the match they seemed to have an extra gear to use, while we were playing on the limit. It is good SKA arrives early, so we will have a rest day between two matches. This professional approach shows respect from the Belarussian side to themselves, to opponents and to the league," was Juškenas impressed.
SKA is aware the away matches will be tough
Former BHL champions SKA has had an excellent start to the season, advancing in EHF Cup and leading in the Belarus championships. In midweek, SKA added another victory in the domestic league, beating Kronon Grodno at home 35:26, Yulian Hiryk and Bogdan Cherkashchenko scored six goals.
"Happy to see the Belarus league getting stronger. More and more teams are able to create tough opposition, both against us and HC Meshkov Brest, this only helps develop the players. Same must be said about BHL, I can see this season in Group A to be very even and strong," commented the head coach of SKA Ihar Papruha.
"We have played Dragunas already, but at home they are surely stronger and capable of bringing surprises. Tenax has strenghtened significantly with returning national team players, so it will also be a tough match. We are missing two line players for this trip, as Hleb Leukhin and Viachaslau Bokhan are injured," shared Papruha some team news.
In addition to Lithuanian champions, their Latvian counterpart ZRHK Tenax Dobele will also host SKA and ZTR this weekend. Last season Tenax lost to ZTR in the quarter-finals by 17- and 15-goal margins. Interestingly, in the previous three season it had been SKA, who had blocked Tenax's way to Final Four in the quarter-finals.
Viljandi hopes to end a streak of 12 games without a win
If in Group A, Cocks Riihimäki and Serviti Põlva will have a BHL-free weekend, then in Group B all six teams are eager to add points to their tally. Viljandi HC currently sits on the bottom, having lost the first two matches to their domestic rivals. Now, it is time to welcome two Lithuanian teams to Southern Estonia.
The preparation was not ideal for Viljandi, as on Tuesday the team lost to HC Tallinn in Estonian league by 38:24 with Volodymyr Maslak on target seven times. Last season Viljandi lost all matches against their weekend's opponents Granitas-Karys Kaunas and VHC Šviesa Vilnius.
"We did lose last season, but put up good fights," admits Viljandi's head coach Marko Koks. "I have seen both teams and Šviesa seems stronger with the team together for many years, while Granitas has a new young coach and several new players. Compared to Tuesday we will have couple of players back in the squad, so we take it game by game and hope to get some results."
Celtnieks hosting Lithuanian teams, Estonian derby in Tallinn
Viljandi's first opponent Granitas-Karys had similarly a set-back in domestic league, losing at home to Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus 32:26 with Karolis Grigas their best scorer with eight goals. Šviesa claimed their fifth win of Lithuanian season, beating Kauno Ažuolas-KTU 33:29, as Valdas Drabavičius, Tomas Bernatavičius and Arturas Švilpa scored five goals.
Granitas-Karys and Šviesa will also visit Riga this weekend to play against Celtnieks. Last season the Latvian side beat Granitas-Karys on two occasions in tight matches, 25:23 away and 33:30 at home. It was tougher against Šviesa, who took the better of Celtnieks 32:29 and 29:24.
The fifth match of Group B will see an all Estonian clash, as HC Tallinn hosts HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper for the first time in BHL. The two teams have played 11 times in domestic competitions in last two years with wins 6:5 in Kehra's favour. Exactly a month ago they met in Estonian league and Kehra enjoyed a 22:21 away win.
On photo: SKA Minsk's head coach Ihar Papruha is convinced BHL's Group A is very strong this season. (Photo: Helin Potter/BHL).