National Champions 2016/17 – Men Part 2: North-east
Part two of the six-part series on domestic champions across Europe looks at Belarus, Finland, Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
HC Meshkov Brest continued their dominance of the Belarusian league by winning the national title for the ninth time in history – and the fourth successive year.
In the best-of-three semi-final series, Sergey Bebeshko’s team sensationally lost the first match to the humble Kronon Grodno (26:25). However, they made up for the first-leg defeat by smashing their rivals in the remaining two games to qualify for the final.
In the final, Brest faced their biggest domestic rival, SKA Minsk. In the best-of-five series, HC Meshkov needed just three games to successfully defend their title.
The first game was the tightest as Bebeshko’s team only clinched their 34:31 victory in extra time. In the next matches, Brest had a bigger advantage, winning 31:23 and 35:28 to secure the gold medal.
Cocks do it again
Once again, Cocks won the championship in Finland. This year’s title came after what was probably the most successful season in the history of the club from the town of Riihimäki.
First, Cocks had their first try in the qualification tournament for the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase, before qualifying for the EHF Cup Group Phase for the first time ever in the autumn.
In the domestic play-offs, Cocks had no real trouble in either the semi-final or final, which were both played ‘best of five’. Three matches were enough to eliminate SIF in the semis, and three matches were also all Cocks needed to defeat former champions BK-46 in the final.
Cocks started by winning 31:25 at home, then 32:28 away, and on May 20, the lifted the trophy on home ground after another four-goal win at 28:24.
“The experience we gained from the Champions League qualifiers and the EHF Cup gave us an extra boost, which we could use further on in the season this time,” Cocks left back Nico Rönnberg said.
Veterans’ swan song
There were no sensations in the Russian Superleague as Chekhovskie Medvedi finished on top once again and won their 16th successive title.
For Vladimir Maximov’s team, the season was nearly perfect. In the regular season, Medvedi lost just three points in 22 matches and finished first, tallying six points more than their closest rivals St. Petersburg HC.
In the play-offs, the team from Chekhov did not stumble at all. Two victories against Permskie Medvedi in the quarter-final and two semi-final wins against Dinamo Astrakhan booked them a spot in the finals.
St. Petersburg tried to resist in the best-of-five final series, but did not succeed. Maximov’s unstoppable team won three matches – 27:21, 33:25 and 28:24 – and that was enough to claim another domestic title.
It was a swan song for a number of Medvedi veterans as Alexander Chernoivanov, Oleg Grams, Dmitry Kovalev and Oleg Skopintsev all left the team after the season.
Motor the best again
There are no play-offs in the Ukrainian league as the champions are determined after the regular season. Exactly like a year ago, Motor Zaporozhye enjoyed a perfect campaign, winning all 28 games on the way to their fifth straight title.
ZTR Zaporozhye had hoped to challenge the defending champions, but Motor won all four local derbies. The clear 41:26 victory in the last of them secured Motor the title as early as April, a month before the season was over.
Dragunas take revenge
After a one-year break, Klaipeda Dragunas became national champions once more. The team coached by Arturas Juskenas won the title for the seventh time in history.
Last year, it was a surprise when Dragunas lost to Alytaus "Almeida-Stronglasas" in the battle for the gold medal, but the Klaipeda-based team clearly learned their lesson and took convincing revenge in 2016/17.
In the best-of-five final series against Alytaus, Dragunas needed just three matches to clinch the title. All games were tight, but the team from Klaipeda were faster and more dangerous each time, and ultimately left their opponents no chance (27:23, 25:22, 27:26).
Second title for Celtnieks
In 1992, Celtnieks Riga became the first Latvian champion after the country regained independence – then had to wait 25 years for their second title.
This year Celtnieks ended TENAX Dobele’s three-year reign when the two teams met in the final series for the third straight season, but this time the side from Riga had the upper hand in the battle.
They opened the series with a narrow 31:30 win in Dobele, then claimed a slightly more convincing 25:22 home victory. The third game took placed in Dobele again, where Celtnieks dominated and won 30:28.
Third in a row for Polva
Two clubs, HC Kehra and Polva Serviti, have dominated Estonian handball for years, but recently Polva have been on a winning streak. In 2016/17, they claimed the champion's title for the third consecutive year.
Prior to this season, both Polva and Kehra had won 11 championships each, but this year the team from Serviti claimed their 12th title.
In the best-of-five final series against Kehra, both sides played cautiously and focused on defence, yet Polva ultimately won the trophy with three victories and one defeat in the series.
Fifth national title for Olimpus 85 Chisinau
University of Sport team Olimpus 85 Chisinau claimed their fifth national title after a tough battle against PGU Tiraspol.
Olimpus won the decisive game against PGU 28:27 with three matches remaining in the championship, after their opponents missed a penalty throw with three seconds on the clock.
The 2016/17 trophy represents the second consecutive title for Olimpus and their fifth in the last seven years.