Oilers win Northwest title to advance to national tourney
by Bruce Tippets
Vernal claimed the United States Premier Hockey League Northwest title after winning the playoff series with Seattle at Western Park ice rink March 10-12.
The Oilers secured the best two-out-three format with a convincing 5-0 victory in the third game.
Vernal dropped a 4-3 decision to the Totems in the second contest of the series. The Oilers won the opener 4-2.
Vernal entered the postseason as the No. 1 seed from the Northwest conference.
“Seattle is a tough team,” Vernal owner David Imonti said. “We were nervous going into the third game. I wasn’t surprised it went three games. They gave us everything we could handle.”
Imonti said the series win was a complete team effort by everybody on the roster.
“We had guys that don’t get a lot of ice rise to the occasion,” he said.
Vernal fans showed plenty of support throughout the weekend.
“The fans on Saturday night was the biggest we have ever had here,” Imonti said. “It just shows Vernal supports a winner. We weren’t going to back down.”
Vernal now qualified for the USPHL national tournament in Utica, New York March 23-28.
“It’s huge to qualify for nationals for what we have to work with,” Imonti said. “We are probably the smallest market in the league to qualify. This group of boys set the goal from day one to qualify and they achieved that goal. We are happy going to New York but we want to make Vernal proud and have a good showing while we are there. ”
Vernal goalie Antonio Tarantino knew from the first day of practice this team was going to be a contender in the USPHL.
“We worked really hard to qualify for nationals all season long,” Tarantino said. “Seattle made us work all weekend. Playoff hockey is very hard to predict. I’m glad all of us showed up and we are heading to Utica.”
In the final game of the series with Seattle, the two teams were scoreless after the first period.
In the second period, Vernal’s Presley Toth scored twice, Alex Bartakovics and Huge Stalnacke scored one goal apiece for a 4-0 cushion.
“Those goals in the second period changed the game around,” Imonti said. “They weren’t fancy goals, they just went into the net.”
Bartakovics recorded his second goal of the game in the third period to put the game out of reach.
“They didn’t get ahead of themselves,” Imonti said. “They really buckled down and made sure we made the most of this.”
Tarantino stopped 21 saves for the shutout.
“It’s pretty special to get the shutout,” Tarantino said. “It’s a memory I’m going to remember for a very long time. We have a lot of defenders that played well. We also had a lot of defenders that didn’t play.”
In the second game, the Totems scored twice in the second period for a 2-0 edge. Vernal’s Flip Molnar made it a 2-1 contest heading into the third period.
Seattle went up 3-1 before Jamil Zaid made it a one-goal game. The visiting team score the game-winning goal with six minutes left in regulation.
Molnar registered his second goal late in the game, but it wasn’t enough for the Oilers to get the win.
Vernal opened the playoff series when Bartakovics put the puck in the net for a 1-0 lead.
Both the teams scored one goal apiece in the second period. Vernal’s Filip Lezzani and Braden Deck registered goals in the final period to propel the home team to the win.
Tarantino was credited with 21 saves in the victory. Trestyn Oldham
The Vernal Oilers celebrated winning the Northwest Division title March 12 at Western Park with a team photos. Players and members in the organization in the photo were Ben DiFiore, Antonio Tarantino, Alaina VanLeuven (operations manager), Wyatt Gottschall, Cameron Zetterquist, Christian Golic, Seungpoyo Cho, Cole Bisson, Aaron Hicks, Filip Molnar, Filip Lezzani, Walker Douglas, Jayce Yadon, Jayden Pasillas, Slade Flitton (team medic), Tanner Flitton, Braden Deck, Tyler Chapman, Hugo Stalnacke, Carson Weiner, Leavitt Ayoungman, Marco Casinelli, Daniel Ripstein, Presley Toth, Logan Powers, Adam Palenik, Alex Bartakovics, Jamil Zaid, Ethan Christian, Jakub Bulik, David Imonti (owner), Artur Aloyan (assistant coach), Mike Gennello (head coach), Mitchell Knight assistant coach).