Baltics Best

Champions crowned in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia

28.03.2013
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Three new champions: Energija Elektrenai from Lithuania, SMSCredit from Latvia and Tallinn Viking Sport from Estonia. Photos: hockey.lt, lhf.lv, icehockey.ee

Latvian experience beats talents

RIGA, Latvia - Latvia’s regular season winner ended up with the title. SMScredit’s Mihails Koklins’s power play goal late in the second period proved to be decisive in the 1-0 victory in game 3 over HK Juniors.

Much like game 3, the other two games were closely matched. After a 5-3 win for SMScredit in the first game, they stared at defeat in game two before turning the game completely final 20 minutes. Trailing 4-2 after 39 minutes, they scored four unanswered goals to stay unbeaten in the series.

“The season was difficult but very rewarding,” said a delighted coach Aigars Razgals. “We achieved our initial goal in winning the regular season but I can only take my hat off for what my boys managed in the post-season. The key to this victory was having a total team effort.”

For HK Juniors the loss is bitter but a valuable lesson for the young players. The team comprises of Latvian junior players who are hoping to make the jump to their KHL counterparts, Dinamo Riga. With the oldest player on the HK Junior roster being 21, the team performed above expectations this season.

Too good for the league

ELEKTRENAI, Lithuania – For the second time in as many seasons Energija Elektrenai took home the Lithuanian championship. Their hold on the domestic Lithuanian league was already very strong last season but it turned out to be a one-team show this season.

That is the simple conclusion after Energija had won all its 15 regular season games scoring nearly 100 goals and conceding just 37. They had three times the amount of points of the runner-up teams in the 4-team league who each ended with just 15 points apiece.

Because of their dominance during the season it was rather surprising to see that Elektrenai were 1-0 down in the season final against the Russian participant Delovaja Kaliningrad, an enclave based between Poland and Lithuania.

Former Kazakhstan national team player and current player/coach Anatoli Filatov shot his team to a cheeky 1-0 lead after 27 minutes leaving the 1,800 home fans in the Elektrenai Arena bewildered.

The lead lasted just 40 seconds before the reigning champions restored the orders. Algimantas Viskockas equalised with a shot from the blue line after which third period goals by Andrejus Zidkovas and Aivaras Bendzius ensured the victory of the Acropolis Cup.

“We forgot to score early on and to make our job easier,” said Energija coach Sergei Krumkac. “Mistakes and injuries to players forced us to play a different game than planned but I’m very glad that we managed to win.”

Having won every single game this season, Elektrenai is looking for other challenges next season.  One of them is joining a league of one of Lithuania’s neighbouring countries. The Belarus Open League seems to be most viable option.

Krumkac: “We intend to participate in a different league next season, but at this moment it’s too early to announce further details.”

Excitement and drama in Estonia

TALLINN, Estonia – A 4-1 lead heading into the final period was nearly lost but Tallinn Viking Sport barely held on to their lead to claim the Estonia Meistrliiga away from the team that captured the cup the previous two seasons.

The Estonian domestic league isn’t very much known around the world and the regular season of the five-team league did not give any specific reasons for that to change. Tallinn Viking Sport was superior losing just three out of the 16 games. Those three losses, however, all came against HK Kalev-Välk Tartu, who they also happened to face in the final.

Opposed to the regular season, the league final series had all the excitement and drama Estonian fans could have wished for. Viking took the lead in the series after a 3-2 win with the game winning goal scored shorthanded by Sergei Novikov 36 seconds before the final buzzer. Tartu struck back in game 2, defeating their rivals 2-0 to even the series.

It was yet another shorthanded goal that earned the capital city team the win in game 3. Young Russian forward Pavel Karpukhin struck while a man short to make it 4-2 with less than seven minutes to play.

Although Tartu managed to cut the deficit in half on a goal by playoff top scorer and Estonian national team forward Vassili Titarenko, they did not manage to tie it up.

With one game left to win in the best-of-five series, Tallinn Viking Sport lifted themselves to a comfortable 4-1 lead after two periods. With the players mentally already celebrating the victory, Titarenko once again brought Tartu to within a single goal but despite 43 shots on goal the score remained 4-3 meaning Estonia crowned a new champion for this first time since the 2009-10 season.

The majority of the players will now shift their attention to the upcoming World Championship Division I Group B in Donestk, Ukraine, where Estonia will try to avoid relegation against Ukraine, Poland, Netherlands, Romania and Lithuania.

JOERI LOONEN


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