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29.06.2016, 09:50◄ last page     

DOMESTIC LEAGUES: A new champion in Lithuania, but no surprises elsewhere in the region

National champions of Europe - Men Part 6: North-east

The domestic leagues have come to an end and we now approach the draws of the 2016/17 European season, starting with the VELUX EHF Champions League draw on 1 July.

In six parts, the spotlight is shone on each of the national champions and their path to glory. The last part consists of teams from Finland, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Moldova.

Chekhov pushed hard in final series

Chekhovskie Medvedi continue to be the dominant force in the Russian handball. The team coached by Vladimir Maximov won their 15th title in a row.

It was not always easy for the Chekhov team. In the Russian Superleague, if the difference between the leader and the runner-up is more than four points after a regular season, the first-placed team automatically becomes a champion, and no play-off series are played.

But this year, this was not the case. Chekhovskie Medvedi had 58 points, while their rivals Permskie Medvedi had 54, and the best-of-three final series were to be held.

In the first game in Perm, Chekhov were down by two goals at half-time (17:19) but showed character and eventually won 33:30.

In Chekhov, the battle was also tight, but the more experienced Maximov's played raised the tempo in the right moments, and their goalkeeper made some good saves, driving them to a 34:32 win and the championship.

A perfect season for Motor

For the fourth successive time, HC Motor Zaporozhye became the Ukrainian champion.

On paper, Motor's sternest rival was another team from Zaporozhye, ZTR.

But Motor did not give their opponents any chances. The team coached by Mykola Stepanets won all four derbies against ZTR, as well as all other 20 games in the league.

So in the end Motor had a perfect record, 48 points in 24 matches and were deserved champions.

Cocks unstoppable

The finals of the Finnish championship play-off are played best of five, but just like last year, Cocks only needed three matches to make everything clear.

After Dicken were overcome last year, HC West were Cocks’ opponents this time, but they were simply ran over by the Riihimäki-based reigning champions.

Cocks opened the final series with a convincing 34:23 win at home, followed by another 11-goal win, 35:24 away in the second leg.

In the third match, then, Cocks could let their own home crowd celebrate them, as they emphasised the difference between the two finalists with a 34:26 win.

Brest defend their title

HC Meshkov Brest became Belarusian champions for the 8th time in history and for the third successive year.

Just like in the previous season, they had to face SKA Minsk in the final. SKA signed a short-term contract with the famous Siarhei Rutenka at the end of the season, which raised their hopes for a national title.

Yet Brest, having a more balanced team, were too strong for the Minsk team.

The fight was tight, and it was very important for HC Meshkov to win the first game in Minsk, which they did, 32:30.

The best-of-five series moved to Brest where the team coached by Sergey Bebeshko obviously felt more comfortable.

In the second game, SKA led by four goals during the first half. Yet Brest made a comeback, strongly improved after the break and went on to comfortably win 33:26.

The team from Minsk had their last hope in the third match, and SKA were leading 14:13 after the first half. But yet again, Bebeshko's team were more fortunate, won 27:26 and lifted the national trophy.

Maiden title for Alytaus

For the first time in history, Alytaus "Almeida-Stronglasas" were crowned as national champions. In the best-of-five final series, they made an impressive comeback and beat Dragunas Klaipeda, a six-time title winner.

The team representing the town of Alytus were not favourites and had a tough start, having lost in the first two encounters 21:20 and 27:25.

Then came a sudden transformation. The third match, which was won 21:19, gave them hope and the fourth game (21:18) brought them level.

The early stages of the fifth game were like a cold shower for Alytaus as Dragunas led by five goals during the first half. But Alytaus managed to control the situation, come back into the game and win 25:22.

Three in a row for Dobele

Once again, the Latvian champion is called TENAX Dobele. The team from a small town with a population of 10,000 had already won the trophy in 2014 and 2015, and now did the same for the third consecutive year. Altogether, it is their fourth title, the first one won in 1999.

Just like the previous season, Dobele's opponent in the final series was Celtnieks Riga. And the history was repeated as the club from the capital city came up short, losing all three games.

In the first game, TENAX were superior and beat their opponents 30:25. The second match was harder, but thanks to the solid finish Dobele were the winner again, 27:24.

The third game proved to be the easiest, as the score line of 25:16 suggests. Unlike the two seasons before, this year Dobele were proclaimed champions at home, in front of their own fans.

Polva do it again

Between 2011 and 2015, the Estonian championship was strictly switching between HC Kehra (in even years - 2012, 2014) and Polva Serviti (in odd years - 2011, 2013, 2015).

But this season, the tradition was broken by Polva as they won the league for the second consecutive year to draw level with Kehra on the all-time record of 11 titles.

However, it was not Kehra but Viljandi HC who proved the greatest challenge to Polva in 2016. It was mission impossible for Viljandi as the Serviti side were dominant in the final series, winning all three matches.

Olimpus win the title back

HC Olimpus 85-USEFS Chisinau won the Moldovan championship for the fourth time this season. The 2014 champions won the title back from record champions PGU Tiraspo, who were unable to add a 16th title to their impressive tally.

TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev, Peter Bruun / cor

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