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Cocks and ZTR made a perfect start

The 2016/17 Baltic Handball League’s opening weekend brought some exciting matches, some one-sided games, a first draw and some shocking results. Only two teams started with two wins – defending champion Cocks Riihimäki and newcomer ZTR Zaporozhye.

Besides the two group leaders there is only one club, who has not dropped any points – Celtnieks Riga, winning their only game of the weekend. All other 8 teams have already lost some points in the shape of a defeat or draw.

Title-defence starts with two wins

Cocks hosted two Lithuanian clubs over the weekend in Group B matches and took two relatively comfortable wins. Granitas-Karys Kaunas was beaten 33-24 and VHC Šviesa Vilnius 33-19. Teemu Tamminen was Cocks’ top scorer on both occasions with 11 and 9 goals respectively.

“First match or the first half of it did come easily,” admits Gintaras Savukynas, head coach of Cocks. “Our defence did not work and it was a difficult period. In the second half all puzzle pieces fell into their places and we managed to play some good handball.”

Savukynas was also very happy how his team turned out on Sunday: “I believe the players realized that not all had worked perfectly the day before and stepped on the field very concentrated. We decided the match already in the opening minutes.”

“In general, it was a great weekend – both in terms of results for the team and also as a handball party for Cocks’ supporters, who had not seen Baltic League for a long time,” added Savukynas.

ZTR shows their intent and quality

In Group A, ZTR Zaporozhye started well and claimed two wins in Estonia. Making its debut in BHL, the decorated Ukrainian club is obviously to be considered as one of the favourites and ZTR’s head coach Vitaliy Nat announced prior to the weekend that his team’s goal is to win the competition.

ZTR’s debut on Saturday and the first minutes of it were particularly impressive – Ukrainians kept Viljandi HC without a goal for over 13 minutes (!), led 8-0, eventually winning 27-19 (Andrii Akimenko 7 – Sergei Rodjukov 6 goals).

“The opponent was physically powerful, but we lost the game at the start due to our own mistakes. If we forget the first 13 minutes, we proved to ourselves it’s possible to play against such a strong team,” commented Viljandi HC’s head coach Marko Koks.

Day later, ZTR beat HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper 34-21 (Oleksii Ganchev 9 – Uku-Tanel Laast and Kaspar Lees 5) and Kehra’s head coach Indrek Lillsoo also admits the newcomer is a very strong and professional team.

“We played well in the first half, except in the final minutes, but in the second half the Ukrainians just over-powered us. We had trouble using our chances, even missed three penalty throws, but of course all this could not have saved the game – ZTR was too strong,” explains Lillsoo.

Young SKA suffer two defeats in Estonia

The other visitor in Estonia this weekend was three-time BHL champion SKA Minsk and they are responsible for the shock results. Never before have the Belarussians started with two defeats, but this time they were beaten both by Kehra 31-27 (Artur Rudz 9 – Kaspar Lees 10) and by Viljandi 35-24 (Rudz 12 – Ott Varik 12).

Obviously it has to be considered that SKA travelled with a new generation of players and goalkeeper Pavel Miskevich was the only first team player included. Nevertheless, Belarussian handball and SKA especially are known for their youth work. One sign might be the 21 goals scored by 18-year-old Artur Rudz, who tops BHL scoring charts after the opening weekend.

“Young or not, there was enough quality in the team and the win did not come easy,” confirms Kehra’s head coach Lillsoo. His colleague from Viljandi, Marko Koks agreed and pointed out that perhaps the young SKA team was tired for the second match in two days.

Celtnieks beat Dragunas for the first time in 7 years

If ZTR Zaporozhye’s debut was historical, so was a result from Sunday’s match in Riga, where local Celtnieks beat Dragunas Klaipeda 27-25 (Arturs Lazdinš 13 – Igor Kopishinskiy 7). In last 6 seasons the teams have met 12 times and never have the Latvians clinched a win! Two draws – including one from last season – were the closest results.

This time Celtnieks played a great first half, taking it 16-8 with Lazdinš having scored half of the hosts’ goals. Dragunas climbed back into the game and with two minutes to go, had cut the deficit to just one goal, but Celtnieks held on.

“Dragunas has lost some key players, but we managed to add few players to our squad, especially Kaspars Lisovskis, as we had been missing a top class playmaker before,” commented the coach and manager of Celtnieks, Normunds Blome.

“The first half was excellent, but we also need to praise our goalkeeper Raitis Purinš, who played an incredible match,” added Blome. “In the second half our short bench and the fact Dragunas is a professional team had an effect, but luckily the guys fought until the end and we managed to beat them after such a long time.”

In the opening match of the new season on Saturday, Tenax Dobele hosted Serviti Põlva and the champions of Latvia and Estonia could not decide, who is better. The match ended in a 26-26 draw (Ansis Bilkštis 6 – Henri Sillaste 7). BHL continues in six weeks time, on 12th and 13th November, when 9 matches will take place, mainly in Lithuania.

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