Oilers punch ticket to national tourney in New York

by Bruce Tippets

Vernal scored four unanswered goals in the third period to secure a 6-2 win over Seattle to clinch the United States Premier Hockey League Northwest Division title.

The victory capped off a 2-1 playoff series victory against the Totems at the Uintah County Western Park Ice Rink.

The teams played a best two out of three series format.

It’s the second straight divisional title for the Oilers.

“I think that it means a lot to the organization and even more to the town of Vernal,” Vernal coach Ryan Howse said. “We saw the energy and the excitement this weekend just shows how much everyone cares.”

Vernal can now focus on the USPHL Nationals Championships in Utica, New York March 21-26.

“We now have big things to look forward to in the coming week,” Howse said. “This group has impressed me all year. It’s one of the best groups I have been a part of. We enjoy each other. We fight like brothers but we love each other like a family. We found a way to get through adversity. Going to nationals is a big goal of ours and I couldn’t be more proud of my group.”

The Oilers hosted the series because they were the No. 1 seed from the Northwest Division. Seattle was No. 2.

“Seattle came ready to play,” said Howse. “It was good for us but like I said, I believe in this group. This group believed in each other. At the end of the day we found a way to win.”

With the trip to nationals on the line in Game 3 vs. Seattle, the Oilers were behind 2-1 early in the second period.

Vernal’s Logan Powers found the net to deadlock the score at 2-2.

“You want to be a part of these games,” Howse said. “My point before the third period was I told them everyone pictured themselves scoring the big goal and being in the big moment. I just wanted our guys to embrace it.”

It was all Oilers in the third period.

Four minutes into the frame, Vernal’s Rodion Gornostaev put the Oilers ahead 3-2.

Jonathan Jakshoj added a goal when Seattle was down a pair of players because of penalties.

Austin Osborn scored less than two minutes later on another power play goal to increase the cushion to 5-2.

Jakshoj finished the scoring at the 17:28 mark of the final period to secure the win.

“I was confident in our group the whole time,” Howse said. “I never doubted us once even when they were up 2-1. We were still calm. We continued to stay focused.”

Howse liked how balanced his players were on the offensive side.

“We have to win by committee,” said Howse. “We don’t win with just one or two guys. We will win as a group. This team is willing to compete with each other.”

Vernal’s goalie Levente Hegedus was credited with 22 saves in Game 3. Hegedus played all three games in the key position for the home team.

“He has been solid all weekend,” Howse said. “We know what we are getting with him. He is not just a good player but also a good person.”

The Oilers knew they had their backs to the wall in Game 2 of the playoff series with Seattle.

Vernal came up big under pressure in front of a large and noisy crowd of supporters for a 5-1 win to keep its season alive.

The Oilers were ahead 2-1 after two periods. Vernal broke the game open with three goals in the third period.

Osborn led the way with three goals. Rodion Gornostaev and William Sowell each had a goal.

Hegedus finished with 29 saves.

Seattle rallied for a 5-4 win in Game 1 of the series.

Vernal’s Logan Powers, Elmar Bekir, Nick Moore and Rodion Gornostaev had a goal apiece.