Big and famous name in the Baltic handball landscape, Celtnieks Riga has slowly, but surely been getting closer to success in recent years. Latvian title was won in 2017 and last season the place in the Baltic Handball League quarter-finals was only lost in the final weekend. Celtnieks has retained all the key players from last season and is setting high targets for 2020/21.
Although dating its history back to the Soviet times, today’s club was re-established in 2012 and three years later joined forces with LSPA Riga. Since then the most successful season for new Celtnieks was 2016/17, when they managed to beat the champion of previous three years ZRHK Tenax Dobele in the final of Latvian league. Tenax has regained the title after that with Celtnieks coming second in last seasons.
In BHL, Celtnieks finished second in 1991/92 before the club was dissolved for some years. Recently the results have not been as good, but have improved steadily and last season the place in the quarter-finals slipped away only during the final weekend.
“I believe the new system of BHL will give teams a good amount of tough games and will help the development of handball in Baltic region. The goals must be set high, so this season we are aiming to win the Latvian league and as a minimum, reach the Final Four of BHL,” claimed Normunds Blome, team manager of Celtnieks.
“We have managed to keep almost the same squad as last season, so I hope under the guidance of our coaching partnership of Janis Smagars and Armands Melderis we can make another step forward. We have experience, but we will also bring some talented youngsters into the team,” added Blome.
The playmaker of Celtnieks, Aliaksei Haisa was already the top scorer of the regular season in 2019/20 with 72 goals in ten games, so the Belarussian is definitely a key player in the new season. So is his compatriot, left wing Aliaksandr Patcykailik, as both of them have the experience of winning the BHL, either with SKA Minsk or Cocks Riihimäki.
From local players, Latvian international goalkeeper Raitis Purinš has established himself as one of the best in BHL with Arturs Klavinš and Dmitrijs Petuhovs recently also making their way into Latvian national team. Celtnieks have also strengthened with 34-year-old Janis Gremzde, returning after years in Germany. The centre-back was part of the ASK/LB.LV Riga in 2006/07 – the last Latvian team, who won the BHL title.
“Serious work has been going on all summer, we started on July 1st and now have been training more in the sportshall for few weeks. This weekend we take part in the international Põlva Cup in Estonia and see how we look. One of the key issues this season is to be better in defence and concede as few goals as possible,” shared Blome his thoughts.
Founded: 2012 (re-established)
Best domestic results: Latvian champion 1991/92 and 2016/17, Latvian cup-finalist 2015/16
Best European results: participated in EHF Challenge Cup 2018/19
Best results in BHL: runner-up 1991/92
Head coach: Janis Smagars and Armands Melderis
Key players: Aliaksei Haisa, Raitis Purinš, Arturs Klavinš, Aliaksandr Patcykailik
Opening match in BHL: 05/09/2020 Celtnieks Riga – HK Ogre
On photo: Celtnieks Riga is aiming high in the new season, setting a target to reach BHL Final Four. (Photo: Celtnieks)