The new, 2020/21 Baltic Handball League season started on Wednesday night with four matches in Estonia and Lithuania. Surprises were in the air in all of them, but in the end it was HC Dragunas Klaipeda, VHC Šviesa Vilnius, Serviti Põlva and HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper, who started with a win.
Although all the managers or coaches of twelve BHL clubs were unanimously declaring prior to the season that it is impossible to name favourites for this year’s BHL, it was clear that in first round four teams were at least slightly higher ranked than their opponents. However, the all four of the underdogs led during the matches, some for long periods.
Šviesa turned the game around in the second half
Lithuanian champion Dragunas was at home against Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus, who returned to the BHL after almost 30 years of absence. The visitors started strongly with playmaker Žygimantas Micevičius on fire and took a 7:5 lead. Dragunas struggled to get into the game, but by half-time they were 13:10 ahead.
Hosts came out of the dressing room to the second half better motivated and by 42nd minute led 21:14. Varsa-Stronglasas did not give up, closed the gap to three goals, but Dragunas won 31:24. Žanas Gabrielijus Virbauskas scored seven goals for the winners, as did Micevičius for the losing side, but he also saw a red card few minutes before the end.
In the other Lithuanian battle, VHC Šviesa Vilnius had just won the domestic Supercup, but record BHL winner Granitas-Karys Kaunas took no notice of it. At home they made an excellent start, especially with Arminas Stankunas and Tadas Bučinskas scoring freely. In the 21st minute Granitas led by 13:7 and won the first half 17:12.
Nightmarish ten minutes started for the hosts five minutes into the second half, when Šviesa scored seven unsanswered goals and were suddenly 22:20 up. It was very tight until the final minutes, but Šviesa did take the victory 33:31. The top scorer of 2018/19 BHL season Karolis Antanavičius scored seven goals for the winners, while Stankunas recorded the best personal result of the first round with ten.
“Two different halves – we were not ready in the first half and lacked aggressivity in defence. Granitas used it well and got easy goals. In the second half we managed to turn it around and then it was very even. Both teams could have won it, but we played better in the decisive moments,” commented Raimondas Maldžius, the head coach of Šviesa.
Newcomer’s head coach: “A good defeat is better than a scrappy win!”
In Estonia, SK Tapa/N.R. Energy made its BHL debut in front of almost 300 spectators at home and put up a spirited fight against the two-time BHL champion Serviti Põlva. Experienced Mikola Naum was in especially fine form in goal and constantly frustrated the visitors with his saves.
Serviti was 13:9 ahead at half-time, but with a great fight-back Tapa managed to cut the deficit to a minimum, 14:13. Left wing Henri Sillaste scored eight goals, many of them in crucial moments to help the visitors to break away again. Serviti took a 25:21 victory and Tapa will look for their first points on Saturday, when they travel to Viljandi.
“A good defeat is better than a scrappy win!” declared Tapa’s head coach Elmu Koppelmann. “Individually Serviti’s players are better, but fighting and team spirit were our strengths. Despite the defeat there was plenty to be happy about and I believe we are on the right track.”
HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper and Viljandi HC started their match few minutes earlier and so it was the Ukrainian Volodymyr Maslak from Viljandi, who had the honour of scoring this season’s first goal in BHL. It was the only time Viljandi had a lead in the game, as hosts controlled most of the proceedings.
Kehra started the last ten minutes 20:15 ahead, but four successive goals by Viljandi created a thrilling final moments. Kehra still escaped with a 24:20 victory, as another Ukrainian, Dmytro Yankovskiy scored six goals for the winners and 16-year-old Hendrik Koks recorded the same amount for losing team.
Next matches in BHL:
04/09 19:00 ZRHK Tenax Dobele – SK Latgols Ludza
05/09 14:00 Viljandi HC – SK Tapa/N.R. Energy
05/09 17:00 Celtnieks Riga – HK Ogre
05/09 18:00 Serviti Põlva – HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper
06/09 14:00 Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus – Granitas-Karys Kaunas
06/09 16:00 HK Ogre – ZRHK Tenax Dobele
06/09 16:30 VHC Šviesa Vilnius – HC Dragunas Klaipeda
On photo: Granitas-Karys Kaunas and VHC Šviesa Vilnius produced the tightest match of the BHL season’s opening night. (Photo: Granitas-Karys).