Due to travel restrictions BHL turns domestic this weekend

Arminas Stankunas Granitas

Scheduling Baltic Handball League matches has never been so difficult, but Baltic Handball Association is doing its utmost to keep the competition flowing. Due to travel restrictions and COVID-19 threath in the region, for this weekend the competition turns domestic again, but still all twelve teams will be in action over the next two days.

BHL’s Latvian and Lithuanian teams are playing just once over the weekend, but it will count in two competitions – in BHL, as well as in the domestic championships – so the games have double importance. Four Estonian clubs will play two matches in similar system.

Serviti and Viljandi to meet first time in BHL

If Estonian champion Serviti Põlva have six points in the BHL table and are closely behind the leading ZRHK Tenax Dobele, then the other three Estonian teams have collected two points from four games so far. It will be a curious encounter on Saturday, as long-time participants and domestic rivals Serviti and Viljandi HC will meet for the first time in BHL.

“It is strange we have not played before in BHL, but there is always a first time for everything. In difficult times it is not easy to prepare for games, if we do not know the schedule beforehand, but I believe all players and coaches do understand the situation and try to cope with it,” said Viljandi’s head coach Marko Koks.

Serviti and Viljandi just met on Wednesday, as the Estonian Cup competition started and the teams were drawn together already in the first round. The opening match ended with Serviti’s away win 29:26 and the reigning champions and cup-winners have now won last nine games against Viljandi in all competitions.

“We had a little bit too many technical faults, but at the same time we were better than before in front of the goal. So if we cut out the mistakes and keep the stability in the attack, we can expect to grab some points. Especially as they are double, for BHL and Estonian league this time,” hoped Koks.

On Sunday, Viljandi will host HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper, who they have drawn in the last two home matches in BHL. After a surprise win over VHC Šviesa Vilnius two weeks ago, SK Tapa/N.R. Energy will this time visit Kehra and Põlva over the weekend – against both Tapa has long losing streaks, which they hope to break.

Andris Molotanovs: we are not letting our heads drop

In Latvia, one of the two matches on Saturday will bring together the top and bottom of the BHL. ZRHK Tenax Dobele is the leader with eight points, while HK Ogre has lost all four matches so far. In September, Tenax beat Ogre away by 34:24.

“We are not letting our heads drop, despite having no points. The team spirit is good and not all the results mirror our quality. I believe we are developing quite well and even being an amateur team, our approach is very professional. I am convinced the results will also come, we just have to stick to our own plan,” assured Ogre’s head coach Andris Molotanovs.

“Due to the pandemic, we have so far only played Latvian counterparts and of course, they know us better and perhaps know our weaknesses as well. So we are hoping soon to be able to play Estonian and Lithuanian teams, as international experience was one of the reasons to come back to BHL,” added Molotanovs.

In the other Latvian match, Celtnieks Riga will host newcomer SK Latgols Ludza, who claimed their debut win two weeks ago by beating Ogre. Back in September, Celtnieks defeated Latgols in a very tight encounter by 34:30.

Granitas-Karys still in building stage, says Vaidotas Grosas

Two Lithuanian games will also bring a true curiosity, almost like the first ever BHL match between Serviti and Viljandi. Real old-timers of the competition, HC Dragunas Klaipeda and Granitas-Karys Kaunas last time met in the proper BHL seven years ago! True, after that, in 2014/15 they played together in the Baltic Challenge League, when Dragunas beat Granitas in the semi-final 32:26.

“We started with very difficult matches, especially as we have several new players and it was my debut as a coach. So I think we are still building the team – players need to understand what coaching staff demands and we need to get to know the players better,” explained former national team captain and Granitas’ head coach Vaidotas Grosas.

Granitas-Karys lost first two matches, but bounced back to beat Viljandi and Kehra. “The games against Estonian teams were also very tight and difficult, but we came from behind to win both, so progress was clear. Now it will be a very tough away match against the champions and we hope to improve even further,” said Grosas.

In the other Lithuanian match on Saturday, Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus will hope to build on victories over Granitas-Karys and Tapa. Varsa has currently four points, so they are just two points behind their Saturday’s opponent VHC Šviesa Vilnius. In domestic league last week they scored almost identical wins, as Šviesa beat SC-RSSG-Grifas Panevežys 44:26 and Varsa-Stronglasas beat HC Utena 44:25.

On photo: Two weeks ago Granitas-Karys defeated Kehra at home with Arminas Stankunas scoring nine goals. On Saturday they face Lithuanian champion Dragunas away. (Photo: Granitas-Karys).

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