Three days with nine matches in four Baltic cities produced some high quality handball. VHC Šviesa Vilnius and ZTR Zaporozhye were the biggest winners, collecting four points over the weekend, while HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper also retained their one hundred per cent record. Group A is led by SKA Minsk and ZTR on five points, as Šviesa and Kehra are on top of Group B with three wins out of three games.
Prolonged Baltic Handball League weekend’s first two days delivered to fans only exceptionally tight matches. In none of the five games played on Friday and Saturday, was the winning margin more than three goals, including a fascinating 33:33 draw between Dragunas Klaipeda and SKA.
Dragunas scored the equaliser with nine seconds left
The two teams are known to produce equal battles and Friday proved to be no different. Lithuanian champion had a better start and were leading by three goals, but some good saves from Ivan Maroz and excellent finishing moved SKA ahead by half-time 17:15. Dragunas came back, pushed ahead and again fell behind.
Dzmitry Nikulenkau’s clever low shot put SKA in front 32:31 with 90 seconds left, but Gytis Šmantauskas equalised. Siarhei Shylovich scored for SKA, but with 59:51 on the clock, Deividas Virbauskas’ penalty shot made it 33:33. Šmantauskas scored eight goals for Dragunas and Aliaksei Ushal six for SKA.
On Sunday, teams went in opposite directions in terms of results. In a tense and adrenaline-spiked match Dragunas lost to ZTR 31:25, as Žanas Gabrielius Virbauskas and Andrii Akimenko emerged as best scorers with eight and six goals respectively. SKA completed the Baltic-tour with a 31:27 win over ZRHK Tenax Dobele. Nikulenkau scored eight for the winners and Maris Veršakovs nine for Tenax.
On Saturday the Latvian champion had hosted ZTR and basically led the whole first half until it finished 13:13. But it took almost eight minutes for Tenax to score after the break and ZTR run away with a 31:28 victory. Oleksandr Tilte scored six and Andis Ermanis five goals as teams top shooters.
Maldžius: we have started well, but it is still early stages
Lithuanian league leader VHC Šviesa Vilnius had started the BHL season with minimal win over Granitas-Karys Kaunas and continued in same fashion. Visiting Celtnieks Riga on Saturday, the two teams produced a very tight match where difference was rarely more than one goal. It was also an aggressive match, as two red cards and 18 two-minute suspensions would prove.
Laurynas Palevičius scored the winning 34:33 goal for Šviesa, while Šarunas Ugianskis recorded eight goals for the winners, Aliaksandr Potcykailik and Arturs Klavinš six for the losing side. The day later, Šviesa had an easier day against Viljandi HC and won 34:19 with Karolis Antanavičius the best scorer with seven.
“We were counting on winning in Viljandi, but the match against Celtnieks turned into a real battle, both physically and mentally. You cannot see such games every day, as in several periods we played with only three or four players on the field. Our players showed a real character to squeeze this victory and I am very happy with that,” said Šviesa’s head coach Raimondas Maldžius.
“The regular season in BHL has started very well for us, having won three games away, but it is still early stages. We have not met Kehra or Tallinn, who both seem to be in good form and are strong opponents. But the win over Celtnieks gave us a lot of motivation for the future. Our goal is of course to finish in top two and qualify for the play-off,” added Maldžius.
Granitas-Karys records first victory, Kehra keeps winning
Granitas-Karys Kaunas collected the first points of the season, beating Viljandi HC 29:27. The Estonians who are on a 14-game winless run in BHL, fought very well and for the most of the second half were trailing by just one or two goals, but could not break the visitors. Tadas Bučinskas and Paulius Šarkauskas were on target eight times with Andrey Khapal scoring seven for hosts.
On Sunday, Granitas-Karys made a stopover in Riga, fell behind early on against a well-attacking Celtnieks and lost 36:25. Bučinskas was once again Lithuanian side’s best scorer with seven, but the visitors could not stop Celtnieks’ Belarussian playmaker Aliaksei Haisa, who recorded 11 goals.
“In general we are happy with the outcome of the weekend, as we got the first victory. We only had 11 players, so it was very hard, but the boys sticked to the game plan and performed very well in defence against Viljandi,” said Granitas-Karys’ head coach Lukas Feoktistovas, who is making his coaching debut this season.
In an all-Estonian battle HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper continued their excellent start to the season. They took 7:2 and 12:7 lead, and even if the domestic rival HC Tallinn did come back, Kehra seemed to have an extra gear every time that happened. Eventually Kehra won 27:25 and had Ukrainian playmaker Vladyslav Naumenko in great form with ten goals. Markus Oliver Mädo scored seven for Tallinn.
“We started well, especially in offence everything worked. At one point we were little sloppy at our own end and confused by Kehra’s 5-1 defence, but basically controlled the events,” commented Mart Raudsepp, head coach of Kehra, who now has three wins from three games after finishing last season in Group A with ten defeats.
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