The 2019/20 Baltic Handball League season is underway! Before the first full weekend next week, two Group A teams made an early start on Sunday. Last year’s Final Four teams SKA Minsk and Dragunas Klaipeda met in Belarussian capital with three-time BHL winners SKA coming out on top by 30:23 (16:11).
Season started with a replay of last season’s third-place play-off. In April’s Final Four SKA took the bronze-medals in a very tight match, winning 27:26. On Sunday, both teams fielded young goalkeepers, as 18-year-olds Benediktas Pakalniškis and Yahor Stasiuk took places between the posts and started with great saves.
The match itself begun in high tempo and until eighth minute it was even. Viachaslau Bokhan’s two and Aliaksei Ushal’s one goal gave the hosts a 8:3 lead in the 14th minute. Dragunas’s head coach Arturas Juškenas’ tactic of replacing goalkeeper with an extra field player, paid briefly off.
On several occasions, the Lithuanians cut SKA’s lead into three goals, but could not get closer due to their own technical faults and good saves by Stasiuk. Bokhan briefly put SKA six goals up, but the half-time whistle send teams to dressing rooms with Belarussians leading 16:11.
Dragunas came out hungry and got two goals, but SKA picked themselves quickly up. Debut BHL-goal from 17-year-old Yan Sabko and a strike from Bokhan put SKA 21:14 in front by 40th minute. Several suspensions could have disturbed the rhythm for the visitors, but instead Žanas Gabrielius Virbauskas scored twice when his team was a man down.
His older brother Deividas made it already 24:21 in the 47th minute, but SKA had response. Excellent defending, especially blocking, plus good saves from Aliaksei Kishou, who replaced injured Stasiuk kept Dragunas’ scoring low, while Bogdan Cherkashchenko and Yulian Hiryk scored at the other end.
Three-time BHL champions SKA started the season with a 30:23 win and kept their unbeaten run going, as they have also won the first four matches of the domestic league. Bokhan and Hiryk scored six goals for the winners, as Lukas Simenas recorded the same amount for Dragunas.