It is time for another season of Baltic Handball League. This time, the season takes a little “false start”, as one match from the opening weekend will be played two weeks in advance. Former winner HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper will host the title-holder Cocks Riihimäki in Kehra on Saturday, in the first match of the new season.
The 2017/18 season of BHL will consist of 12 clubs – last year’s 11 teams will be joined by a newcomer HC Tallinn, taking the number of Estonian teams to four. This a record number from any country in one season in the competition history and it also brings BHL to the capitol of Estonia after a very long time.
The teams are divided into two groups, play each other twice and four best from each group will qualify for the quarter-finals. In the Group A there will be beside Kehra and Cocks also Viljandi HC, VHC Šviesa Vilnius, Dragunas Klaipeda and ZRHK Tenax Dobele. Group B teams are Serviti Põlva, ZTR Zaporozhye, SKA Minsk, Granitas-Karys Kaunas, Celtnieks Riga and the newcomer HC Tallinn.
Cocks is taking BHL very seriously
Kehra and Cocks did not meet last season at all, but in March 2016 they clashed in the quarter-finals of the 2015/16 BHL season. Then Cocks beat the Estonians away 34-30 and at home 32-24 en route to win the BHL for the first time in club history.
Cocks’ head coach Gintaras Savukynas is not making a secret that for the title-defender there can only be one goal: “After the success last season, of course we would like to taste the victory again and keep the trophy in Riihimäki! For our club, BHL is very important competition, as not always in the domestic league we can get high level opposition.”
The Finnish and BHL champion started the season with EHF Champions League qualifiers, where they lost to Sporting CP and Tatran Prešov. In the opening match of the domestic league Cocks defeated Siuntio IF by 32-23 (Aliaksandr Bachko 6 goals).
“It was unfortunate to lose in Champions League, but we got a good experience,” admits Savukynas. “Now we are preparing very seriously for the opener of BHL. We had five new players joining us in the summer, but they have settled really well and our team spirit is very high!”
Kehra targets Final Four, says new coach Kaupo Liiva
HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper changed their coach in the summer, as former player Kaupo Liiva replaced Indrek Lillsoo. Kehra also started domestic season with a win, defeating SK Tapa 31-25 (David Mamporia and Anton Barouski 7). Kehra also took a win in the Estonian Cup first round, beating Coop Põlva 35-28 (Uku-Tanel Laast and Kaspar Lees 6).
“Cocks is obviously extremely strong opponent, compared to us they are 100 per cent professional team,” admits Liiva, who will make his BHL debut as a coach on Saturday. “We need to concentrate on our own game and the players must put together a very good performance in order for us to get a result.”
Kehra is approaching the BHL season with ambitions. “We have set a target to reach the Final Four,” confirms Liiva. “We need high goals, so there would be more desire to develop. Last season we lost very narrowly in the quarter-finals to Serviti and we would like to make amends. Preparation is going well and this season we are making in-depth analysis of our opponents.”