There is a weekend full of handball ahead in the three Baltic States. Two full rounds will be played in the Baltic Handball League, as all twelve teams will play two games over the weekend, so a total of twelve exciting matches await. After the opening two rounds, four teams have maximum of four points, but it will not be the same on Sunday night.
COVID-19 and subsequent travel restrictions have forced some changes to the BHL fixture list, so this time again the four Latvian teams will play each other, but there is a great match-up between Estonia and Lithuania. From our four leaders ZRHK Tenax Dobele and Celtnieks Riga will meet, as will Serviti Põlva and VHC Šviesa Vilnius.
Kehra travelling with confidence to Lithuania
Two Lithuanian teams will host two Estonian sides and in both cases the four matches are between good old friends – or enemies –, as Dragunas Klaipeda, Granitas-Karys Kaunas, HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper and Viljandi HC are all considered old-timers of the BHL.
With the exception of last season, Dragunas and Kehra have been drawn to each other in recent years and in 2015-19 played eight matches. Six of them ended with current Lithuanian champion winning and only twice – on both occasion at home – Kehra came out on top.
After playing Dragunas on Saturday, Kehra will travel to Kaunas. The two teams also met last season in Group B with both sides winning their home games in tight encounters. Granitas-Karys recorded a 31:26 win before losing away 26:24.
The match on Sunday will also signal the meeting of two former BHL winners. Though Granitas-Karys last success was in 1999 and Kehra won last of their three titles in 2012. After the opening weekend Kehra has strengthened their squad significantly, signing two left-handed players from Russia, Artem Bush and Danil Gumianov.
“The newcomers have adapted pleasantly quickly. They already played once, but have now been with us for a week. Of course, learning all the movements and team-mates will take some time, but I can see already now, that they are very valuable additions to our team,” was Kehra’s head coach Mart Raudsepp happy with the two Russians.
“To play in Lithuania is never easy and we have not met Dragunas for two years. But we have been preparing with the help of videos and travel confidently. We go for four points, which I know would be very hard, but we feel strong enough to set that sort of goal,” added Raudsepp.
Unbeaten teams meet in Riga and Põlva
Estonia-Lithuania match-ups will not be limited to Lithuanian soil. Newcomers SK Tapa/N.R. Energy are looking for their first BHL points in the games against VHC Šviesa Vilnius and Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus, but they had a great warm-up for the weekend. On Tuesday, Tapa beat Tallinn in an impressive win of 33:23 in the Estonian league. Šviesa beat Tapa in the pre-season Põlva Cup 31:29.
The same two Lithuanian sides will also visit Põlva over the weekend to play Serviti. Despite being constant participants in recent years, curiously Serviti and Šviesa last met in an official match in 2017. But in pre-season, Serviti twice came out on top against Šviesa, beating the current joint-leaders of BHL in Klaipeda 29:28 and in Põlva Cup final 29:26.
The day before two unbeaten sides of Serviti and Šviesa measure each other, two from the quartet of leaders play in Riga. Celtnieks is hosting Tenax for the first time this season in the Latvian classic. The two teams have occupied two top spots in the Latvian league for the past five finished seasons and would have surely done the same in spring before the COVID-stop.
On Saturday, two Latvian sides will be hoping to escape the bottom of the BHL standings, as SK Latgols Ludza is hosting HK Ogre. Both have much more difficult task on Sunday, as Ogre travels to play Celtnieks and Latgols hosts Tenax.
Photo: Last time Serviti Põlva and VHC Šviesa Vilnius met, was in August in the Põlva Cup final. On Sunday there are BHL points at stake. (Photo: Helin Potter).