The 2020/21 Baltic Handball League season starts on Wednesday, September 2nd with four matches simultaneously in Estonia and Lithuania. Overall, 11 games will be played during this first week of the reformed competition with all twelve teams in action against their domestic rivals.
Baltic Handball Association (BHA) changed the system of the BHL after last season was interrupted in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Only clubs from three Baltic States will take part – four from each country. BHL will be played in league format with all teams playing each other home and away. Top two of the regular season qualify directly to the Final Four and the next four will have play-offs for the remaining two spots.
Estonian El Clasico takes place on Saturday
The four matches to be played this week in Estonia will include one of the real classics of both, domestic and Baltic league. On Saturday, Serviti Põlva will host HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper. The two teams are both former BHL winners and have between themselves shared 25 Estonian league titles out of 28.
Kehra is the last Estonian BHL winner with the last of their three trophies lifted in 2012 after beating Serviti in the final. Last time the two teams met in BHL was back in February 2019 as Serviti came out 24:22 winners in an away match. Kehra has not beaten Serviti in any competition for almost two years.
For the new season, both teams are approaching with almost the same squad as they had six months ago, when last official matches were played. Serviti has strengthened with Estonian international right back Andris Celminš, while Kehra is hoping to get two key players Janar Mägi and Vladyslav Naumenko back from injuries.
Before Saturday, Serviti will travel to Tapa on Wednesday to welcome SK Tapa to the BHL, as the club is making its debut in the competition. Kehra is hosting Viljandi HC on Wednesday and Tapa will then make the trip to Viljandi on Saturday.
Šviesa hosts Dragunas in a Supercup re-match
The first week of the new season will finish hopefully with a great match-up in Lithuania, as on Sunday two best teams of the country will meet. VHC Šviesa Vilnius will host Dragunas Klaipeda, having just two days ago beaten the same opponent to claim the Lithuanian Supercup for the first time in history.
Champion and Supercup-holder Dragunas made a better start to the match on Saturday, had a five-goal lead and were 18:16 up at half-time, but Šviesa moved 23:22 ahead in the 39th minute. It did slip back to Dragunas briefly and with ten minutes to go, the score was 29:29. Šviesa finished strongly and won 34:31 with Karolis Antanavičius scoring nine times.
Before the re-match with Dragunas, Šviesa will play away against five-time BHL winner Granitas-Karys Kaunas. The two teams have met in last two BHL seasons and every single time it has been very tight. So far Šviesa has won all four of those previous encounters, but twice by just one goal.
Dragunas and Granitas-Karys will be the teams, who are welcoming back Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus to the BHL family this week. 2015/16 Lithuanian champion participated in the inaugural BHL season back in 1990/91, but is now returning after almost 30 years of absence.
SK Latgols Ludza making a BHL debut on Friday
In Latvia, the top two teams will not meet this week, but here another debut will take place on Friday, when SK Latgols Ludza visits domestic champion ZRHK Tenax Dobele in their first ever match of BHL. Latgols is a two-time Latvian champion, but in recent years have settled with bronze-medals.
During the weekend, another Latvian team makes its return to BHL after five years absence, as HK Ogre plays Celtnieks Riga away and Tenax at home. Curiously, Ogre’s last – and only – win in the BHL was against Celtnieks, back in 2015/16, when they made their debut in the competition.
Full schedule of the first week:
02/09 19:00 HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper – Viljandi HC
19:00 SK Tapa – Serviti Põlva
19:00 HC Dragunas Klaipeda – Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus
19:00 Granitas-Karys Kaunas – VHC Šviesa Vilnius
04/09 19:00 ZRHK Tenax Dobele – SK Latgols Ludza
05/09 14:00 Viljandi HC – SK Tapa
17:00 Celtnieks Riga – HK Ogre
18:00 Serviti Põlva – HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper
06/09 14:00 Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus – Granitas-Karys Kaunas
16:00 HK Ogre – ZRHK Tenax Dobele
16:30 VHC Šviesa Vilnius – HC Dragunas Klaipeda
On photo: Two former BHL winners Serviti Põlva and HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper will go head-to-head on Saturday. (Photo: Helin Potter).