EHF: New faces look to make mark in men’s Challenge II in Kirklareli

The men’s EuroHockey Club Challenge II sees new clubs from Sweden and Finland in contention in Kirklareli, meeting some regular features on the continental stage.

In Pool A, SLF Mesaicos make their debut 10 years since formation alongside Vantaa who broke through in Finland in 2021; they play against Malta’s Sliema Hotsticks and HC Luxembourg.

Pool B has Turkish hosts Nizip Zeugma hoping to make it back-to-back European titles; they face Építők from Hungary, Norway’s MASK and Slovenia’s Triglav Predanovci. 

Their competition starts on Friday with each side hoping to break into the top two in their group to earn a place in next Monday’s promotion playoff games. Here’s a snapshot of each club: 

Kirklareli (Men) – EuroHockey Club Challenge II

Pool A

Sliema Hotsticks (MLT)

Malta’s 2022 champions are back in Europe after a five-year break and looking to record their best ever finish. Indeed, 2008 was their last time at Challenge II level when they finished in seventh place so an improvement on that would be a historic moment.

The squad is relatively inexperienced with 12 players from the 18-man squad having played in one Euro club event. For the rest, this will be their first experience at club level although the majority of the squad has participated in Euro events at national team level.

Sliema Hotsticks

Domestically, the current season has just come to an end and the club could not hold onto the league championship won the previous year, losing out by one point on the final day.

Captain Shaun Grima is confident that this squad can give a good account of itself despite the difficulties posed by the Challenge II level: “This group has been together for a good number of years and is an interesting blend of players. I am sure we will give a good account of ourselves.”

SLF Mesaicos (SWE)

Mesaicos is a relatively young club from Sweden founded in 2014 and they travel with a very international group consisting of players from 10 different nationalities including, among others, Swedish, South African, New Zealand, Spanish and British.

It is their first time qualifying for Europe and the anticipation and excitement in the team is accordingly high.

Since the Swedish winter is longer than most other countries, their official outdoor competition has only just started with two games played. In order to prepare, they started outdoor practice earlier than usual in mid of March on a heated pitch surrounded by snow and minus temperatures which was quite an experience – especially for their players from the more southern latitudes. 

They traveled to Denmark for practice matches where they were welcomed by great hospitality and had a good chance to test our current playing level in international comparison. 

“We are looking forward to the tournament and want to compete, create memories and grow as a team,” says coach Siya Drott-Baskiti.

SLF Mesaicos

Their club history can be emphasized by one of their goalies, Nils Dressler, who founded the club in 2014. He started playing hockey himself when visiting university in Germany and decided when he moved to Sweden he wanted to establish his own club with a great focus on the social aspects of sport. 

Since then, it has grown into the biggest hockey club in Sweden with increasing success on and off the pitch. Thanks to his initiative, they now have a great group of hockey enthusiasts from all over the world and not just a chance to play hockey but rather a place to find great friendships and an important part of life in Sweden.

Vantaa (FIN)

With the Finnish championship running during the summer, Vantaa actually qualified for their first ever European competition back in September 2021 when they beat Klippari 2-1 in that season’s final. 

That success was a true break-out story, coming in their first season in the Finish men’s championship. Before that, they played in Division 2 with the main focus on their junior section.

Those youngsters grew up enough to join the top level along with some of the club’s best veterans and experienced players from outside. 2022 proved a harder experience after a number of retirements and they ended up in fifth place.

For this year, they have a young team with a couple of players with prior international experience from EuroHockey Under-21 and 16 experience while eight of the squad will play in the EuroHockey Under-18 championship in Alanya in July.

Two Under-18 players Elmeri Rihtilä and Massimo Ruohonen have played in a club event before with Klippari in 2022.


HC Luxembourg (LUX)

HC Luxembourg are playing in their third European men’s competition since debuting in the Challenge IV in 2019 where they were fifth, a position they emulated in 2022 in Challenge II in Gibraltar.

Milan Dans is the only player to traverse the two tournaments and is a key marksman, scoring five times in 2022 and has eight goals in seven European club games.

They can call on a cosmopolitan squad with Belgian, German, Irish, Spanish, Argentine and Dutch players. They won’t lack for coaching knowledge either with master coach Federico Tanuscio in their panel. Vicente Aguirrezabala has also played at this level before during his time with Slavia Prague.


Pool B

Építők (HUN)

Építők Sport Club was established in 1922 by the trade union of the “real estate industry” and is still one of the largest hockey clubs in Hungary, winning 26 outdoor championships, 19 times indoors since 1978 and the Hungarian Cup 21 times.

Their best international result was winning the bronze medal in EuroHockey Indoor Club Champions Cup in the “B” division in 2003 in Copenhagen and their first place in the “C”division in Subotica in 2001.

In recent times, they describe it as a “particular pleasure” to be coached since 2019 byt the experienced Polish trainer, Darek Markiewicz.

Despite difficult conditions in Hungary, the search for young players has always been important to them and, as a result, a significant part of the team is made up of talented, young players who provide excellent support to the regular, more experienced players. 


A strong addition this season has been German player Samuel Bosch. Last weekend, they beat main title rivals Soroksári 3-0 to move level at the top of the league table on points and in good shape for their playoffs.

In the outdoor season last year, in 2022, they played in Challange III in Kirklareli where they finished first in the group, but missed out on direct promotion when they lost to Malta’s Qormi Dalkin.

“We are happy that we can play one division higher this year and that we will be in Turkey again. Hajrá, kék!/Come on, blue!”

Mortensrud-Aker SK (NOR)

MASK hold a unique place in Nowegian outdoor hockey as the only club to win a European club gold, the 2009 Challenge IV in Vilnius. Three members of that side remain with the panel from those days, 14 years on.

They are frequent flyers, playing in 14 competitions dating back to 2008, most recently playing in the Challenge III at the same venue they will frequent this year.

Talking about their strengths, the club state “we don’t have any star players, but focus on a good unit” nd the majority of the panel have played in a number of tournaments before. 

The Norwegian league is only two games in with one MASK picking up a 7-3 win over Trondheim along with a 1-0 loss to Furuset. Captain Ali Hamza Khan drives this unit with passion and fitness. They will meet Építők for a third time since 2018, drawing 3-3 a year ago while falling 6-1 in 2018.


Nizip Zeugma SK (TUR) – pictured above

Nizip Zeugma are looking to make it two titles in two attempts on the European club stage having won the Challenge II at this same Kirklareli venue and 13 of that side are back for another shot.

Key players include Müslüm Elagöz who brings silky skills and an eye for goal – four in 2022 – while Müslüm Ekinci was the best player award of EuroHockey Junior Championship II last year.

They won the Turkish championship crucially beating second placed Gaziantep Polisgücü 3-1 and closing out the victory last Saturday with a 4-3 success against the Metpack Alanya Stars; İbrahim Şamil Köşker was named goalkeeper of the tournament and Ekinci the best player.

“As earthquake children, we are coming to become champions!” they say in their club preview.

HK Triglav Predanovci (SLO)

The current Slovenian league leaders have a bizarre record of finishing fifth in every single one of their men’s outdoor European competitions. This encompasses 2021 and 2022’s Challenge II, Challenge III tournaments in 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2019 and 2017’s Challenge IV.

In their local league, they have a six point lead over HK Lipovci but have completed their initial series of fixtures and so will wait to see how the endgame plays out. Nejc Potokar is the competition’s top scorer with 15 goals while Tadej Mikola, Daroin Škrilec and Domen Dšuban have all weighed in with goals this term.

Indeed, the 27-year-old Mikola has scored over 30 goals for the club across indoor and outdoor European fixtures.For their group in Türkiye, they have played Építők before, an 8-3 success in 2014. 

by European Hockey Federation

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