Oilers sit No. 1 in Northwest Division standings

by Bruce Tippets

The Vernal Oilers are moving towards clinching the Midwest Division title in the United States Premier Hockey League.

Vernal, who has five games left in the regular season, are comfortably ahead of Seattle and Casper in the division.

“We are 10 or 12 points ahead of Seattle,” Vernal coach Ryan Howse said. “The job is not done. We still have a lot of work to do. We want to secure home ice because we play in front of the best fans around here. This is a tough place to come in and play. It’s loud and our guys feed off that.”

The Oilers went 2-1 in a three-game series against the Bakersfield Roughnecks at the Uintah County Western Park Ice Rink.

“I think this past weekend we played some of our best hockey,” Howse said. “Moving forward we need to continue to build off that. Things are starting to come together even though we have multiple injuries in which some of our top players are sidelined. At the end of the day we have to find ways to work around that. I think we have done a great job playing within our system and starting to play with each other has brought us some success.”

Vernal dropped the first game 4-0 to the Roughnecks.

“I think we were just able to stand up for each other,” said Howse. “Mistakes are going to be made in the game of hockey. If we learn from them as we move forward as a group we could play with teams out of our division and who are in better divisions.”

Bakersfield plays in the Pacific Division.

“They are solid teams in that division,” Howse said. “I think we can play with anyone as long as we trust each other and put our best foot forward every night.”

The Oilers bounced back to take the second game of the series 6-2.

Phillip Lezzani led the way with two goals. Logan Baum, Braedyn Mooney and Chase Parry all had one goal apiece.

“We found out that in the second game we could play with them,” Howse said.

Vernal goalie Levente Hegedus stopped 39 saves.

“Hegedus played well on Saturday night,” said Howse. “It’s no secret to us anymore. He had a great showing.”

Howse likes how balanced the Oilers are in the scoring department.

“We have some of our top guys out who we rely on to score goals,” Howse said. “I think the difference for this Oilers team is that we have a balanced attack. There are certain guys who are expecting to do it. We are going to rely on one line to win us games but four lines. The 21 guys have to win as a whole for us to be successful.”

Vernal finished the series with a 3-2 victory over Bakersfield. Austin Osborn delivered the game-winning goal. Kole McClure registered two goals.

Goalie Evan Stringer produced 39 saves.

“I think Evan has played his best the last two games of the year,” Howse said. “Our goalie tandem is very strong. I will take those two guys on any given day of the week. They are great kids and players. They work well together and support each other. They give us a chance to win every night.”