Group win in sight for SKA and Cocks | Handball Planet
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Group win in sight for SKA and Cocks

Two more weekends remain in the Baltic Handball League regular season and few questions are getting answered. A successful trip to Estonia brought title-holder SKA Minsk closer to winning Group A, while unbeaten Cocks Riihimäki seems to be en route to claim the first place in Group B.

Clear winners of the first BHL weekend of 2016 were SKA, Tenax Dobele and Granitas-Gaja-Karys Kaunas – all took two important wins. Meanwhile, two other Belarussian teams HC Meshkov Brest and HC Vityaz Minsk had an unsuccessful journey to Latvia and Lithuania, where they saw their hopes of qualifying to quarter-finals crashed.

SKA’s physical power too much for Estonian clubs

Title-defender SKA is definitely not having an easy season, but showed some great fighting spirit in Estonia. The Belarussian side was without seven key players – away at the European Championships in Poland – and lost the first half in both matches.

On Saturday, SKA was the better side against HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper and won 35-28 after losing the first half 16-17 (Dmytro Yankovskiy 6 – Maksim Sonchyk 7). The Belarussians had more power and especially in the second half Kehra missed their injured main goalkeeper Mikola Naum.

On Sunday the three-time BHL champions were in even bigger trouble against well-performing Viljandi HC and at half-time were behind 12-16. Yet again the Belarussians came out of the dressing room with an attitude and won the first ten minutes of the second half by 5-0! Viljandi did not let go and at the start of the final ten minutes were back ahead 23-22. SKA finished much more strongly and won 32-29 (Karl Toom 9 – Vadim Gayduchenko 9).

Oleg Lebedev, SKA’s team manager was very happy with the results: “We got some good games and players, who normally play less, got a chance to show their capabilities. In both matches we had first-half problems of using our chances, but improved in the second 30 minutes and I believe our physical strength also played an important role.”

Indrek Lillsoo: Huge win for us!

The other team visiting Viljandi and Kehra this weekend was Dragunas Klaipeda. Last season’s Baltic Challenge League winner finished the year strongly and even beat SKA, but were not able to collect any points from their trip to Estonia. As happened in five out of eight matches of the weekend, being ahead after first 30 minutes was not good enough.

On first day, Lithuanian champion led Viljandi by 15-11 at half-time, had a five-goal lead in the second half and were ahead 25-24 with three minutes to go, but Robert Lõpp and Ott Varik scored for Viljandi, giving the home side an important 26-25 win (Varik 8 – Igor Kopishinskiy 5).

It was almost the same story on Sunday, when Dragunas extended their 14-13 half-time lead to four goals and still led 24-21 with a dozen minutes to go. At that point, HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper made a fantastic 7-0 sprint and won 32-27 (Marko Slastinovski 8 – Kopishinskiy and Lukas Simenas 6).

“Huge win for us,” commented Kehra’s head coach Indrek Lillsoo. “We were suffering, but the boys showed great character. We also made some bold substitutions and brought in fresh players, which eventually paid off. Our team needed this win badly and this gives us good reason to look for the future optimistically.”

Tenax beat Meshkov by just one goal

Besides the four matches in Estonia, Tenax and Granitas hosted two Belarussian clubs at home in Group B encounters. Latvian champion Tenax had to fight very hard on Saturday, to come from behind and beat HC Meshkov by just one goal, 29-28 (Toms Lielais and Egils Politers 6 – Artsiom Selviasiuk 8), for the second time this season.

Day later, Tenax had a little bit easier task and after falling 11-13 behind, finished the first half with seven unanswered goals. Latvian club took their third straight win of the league by 36-27 (Lielais 8 – Hleb Vayavoda 6). “Vityaz started well and forced on us a slow pace game, but second half belonged to us,” commented Tenax manager Ivars Zarinš.

“On Saturday we had a very tough game against strong Meshkov,” said Zarinš. “We have couple of players injured and did not have many substitutes for key players. Meshkov’s goalkeeper had a great start to the match and we could not score for eight minutes. Good fighting in the second half and in the final minutes helped us to achieve this important win.”

Easy weekend for Granitas

Granitas-Gaja-Karys Kaunas, who only had two wins from the opening five games, added two victories during the weekend and practically secured their place in the quarter-finals. As in all matches of Saturday, Lithuanian side lost the first half 15-16, but emerged winners against HC Vityaz by 37-26 (Modestas Štarolis and Mindaugas Urbonas 6 – Mikita Yermashevich 8).

On Sunday, Granitas’ opponents HC Meshkov were a shadow of the team that pushed Tenax to the limit a day earlier and Lithuanian club enjoyed a 16-goal victory by 41-25 (Deivydas Virbauskas and Paulius Orlovskis 6 – Selviasiuk 8). “It was a surprisingly easy weekend for us. I was expecting tougher opposition, but I guess Meshkov was tired after Tenax-game and looked not motivated,” explained Granitas’ director Algis Mikučionis.

“We are in good position now, but under no circumstances do we want to finish fourth in our group,” said Mikučionis, hoping to avoid a possible quarter-final against SKA. “I believe it will be down to our last group game in Dobele, when placings are decided. And I find this season’s new system great, as it keeps the pressure on and makes BHL very interesting.”

Artsiom Selviasiuk tops the scoring charts

BHL will continue already in two weeks time with all 12 teams in action. Group A is much more open right now with even sixth-place HK Ogre/Miandum having chances to qualify. SKA leads the group with 12 points and have two more matches to play against the Latvian sides. Viljandi is second with 10 points, but has one game in hand.

In Group B, Cocks Riihimäki has maximum 12 points from 6 games, but it is tight behind them. Tenax has 10 (from 7 games), Serviti 8 (6) and Granitas 8 (7). Check out the full standings here:

Artsiom Selviasiuk from HC Meshkov is the new top scorer of the BHL, having 61 goals to his name. He is followed by Igor Kopishinskiy of Dragunas with 56 goals. Not far are Ardo Puna of Serviti with 51 and Artsiom Kulak of Meshkov with 50 goals.

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