Last weekend before Christmas break in Baltic Handball League provided some top class handball and with first half of the regular season behind, the standings look exceptionally intriguing with five teams separated by just a single point. Biggest winners of the weekend were Estonian clubs, who won all three games and in addition Viljandi HC – newcomer in Baltic League – started with two wins out of two in the Challenge League.
Such was the impact of results from Saturday and Sunday that Cocks Riihimäki, who prior to this weekend’s matches led the BHL table, ended up fifth-placed before the league resumes in January! Four teams are on level with 6 points and Cocks just one point behind. One of the big climbers was last season’s runner-up Serviti Põlva, who took hard-fought, but important wins on home soil against strong Belarussian opposition.
|3||HC Meshkov Brest||5||2||2||1||146:137||9||6|
|4||HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper||5||2||2||1||145:146||-1||6|
|6||VHC Šviesa, Vilnius||5||0||1||4||129:172||-43||1|
Last season’s final replay won by Serviti
On Saturday, Põlva’s Mesikäpa Hall was the stage for last season’s final replay, as Serviti welcomed two-time BHL champions SKA Minsk. It was a truly up-and-down game, as both teams had great spells and at times not so good periods. As an example, the teams had one 5-0 spell each and at the end of the first half Serviti even made a 6-0 “sprint”!
SKA took a 7-3 lead and with nine minutes to go, they still led 11-9, but managed to lose the first half 12-15! Second half was much of the same, SKA fought back to lead 21-19 before the hosts scored five consecutive goals. At 25-25, Ardo Puna missed a penalty throw for Serviti, but the home team had another 3-0 spell and took an important 30-28 victory. Andreas Rikken scored 7 goals for the winners, while Mikita Vailupau of SKA claimed one more.
“I have to admit this was a surprise win ever for me,” said Serviti’s head coach Kalmer Musting. “SKA is a very strong side and we have not yet been at our best level this season. But this time we managed to hold back their bombers from the back and for a game closer to the goal we were ready. Our boys showed some great team spirit, Denis Lõokene was outstanding in goal and Andreas Rikken had a 100% scoring rate.”
Both Belarussian teams beat Šviesa
The day later, Serviti met another Belarussian side, HC Meshkov Brest – until Sunday the only team undefeated in this year’s BHL – and recorded their third win of the season with 27-24 (13-13). It was another tight event with neither of the teams having more than a three-goal lead until the mid-second half, when the hosts managed to turn the match to their favour. Rikken was again Serviti’s best with 5 goals and Siarhei Mikhalchuk scored 8 for Meshkov.
The two Belarussian clubs might have lost in Põlva, but they were not left without victories this weekend. Both had a trip to Vilnius, where VHC Šviesa could not add any points to their single one in the table. On Saturday, HC Meshkov took a 31-26 (18-10) win with Artsiom Selviasiuk scoring 9 goals (7 of them in the first half!) for Meshkov. On Sunday, SKA beat Šviesa 37-20 (21-13) and Vailupau was again title-holders best with 10 goals.
“We cannot say we are unhappy with just two points from two games,” said SKA’s manager Oleg Lebedev. “The team is preparing for important matches of EHF Cup, so we travelled after heavy trainings, but the matches were definitely useful. As the league table shows, competition is becoming stronger and this is only good. Half of the regular season is played and it’s like everything starts from zero again.”
Slastinovski scored 13 goals against Cocks
Another important game was played on Saturday in Kehra, where local HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper beat Cocks Riihimäki 33-26 (12-11). It was a much more contested affair than the final scoreline suggests, despite Finnish champions were missing four key players – Andreas Rönnberg, Teemu Tamminen, Marius Aleksejev and Vitalie Nenita – to various reasons.
Attractive, good handball was shown for most of the first half, although the score was only 12-11. Estonian champions then took a 14-12 lead, but Cocks had a 5-0 spell and the match suddenly seemed to turn for the Finns. However, the hosts replied with a 6-1 “sprint” and did not let go of the lead. One of the heroes of Kehra was definitely Marko Slastinovski, scoring weekend’s best, 13 goals! Jani Tuominen and Nico Rönnberg scored 5 goals for the visitors.
BHL will now have a two-month break and will return in mid-January, when basically a “mirror-matches” of this weekend will be played. Serviti and Šviesa will visit Belarussian clubs and Kehra travels to Riihimäki, so it will be another action-packed weekend. Marko Slastinovski will go to the Christmas break as BHL’s top scorer with 43 goals, followed by three HC Meshkov’s players – Aleh Astrashapkin (35), Artsiom Selviasiuk (33) and Siarhei Mikhalchuk (31).
Next games in BHL:
17 January 15:00 Cocks Riihimäki – HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper (in Riihimäki)
17 January 15:00 SKA Minsk – Serviti Põlva (in Minsk)
17 January 18:00 HC Meshkov Brest – VHC Šviesa Vilnius (in Brest)
18 January 13:00 HC Meshkov Brest – Serviti Põlva (in Brest)
18 January 15:00 SKA Minsk – VHC Šviesa Vilnius (in Minsk)