By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com
Making the jump to a relatively new team in your final season of junior hockey carries with it a share of challenges and new territory to conquer.
Vernal Oilers goaltender Antonio Tarantino, a second-year USPHL Premier goaltender, certainly conquered a whole lot. First of all, he was the only Northwest Division goaltender to win Goaltender of the Month, earning the prize all five months it was awarded. He was obviously also a Northwest All-Star and helped lead Vernal to the first-ever Northwest Division regular season and playoff championship. That brought with it a trip to the USPHL National Championships.
Lots of missions were accomplished there, but Mission No. 1 was always getting to the right college to begin his NCAA college hockey career. That college is the University of Massachusetts Boston campus.
“I started talking with UMass a little bit over a month ago. I think they really like how fast and technical I am along with my compete level during games,” said Tarantino, an ‘02 goaltender out of Fremont, Calif. “I think one thing that made UMass-Boston stand out from the rest is how prestigious of a program they’ve had. So when the opportunity came up for me to go to such a great program, it got my attention for sure.”
The Beacons are getting a player who put up a .935 save percentage and a 20-2-1-2 record this past season for Vernal, adding to his career average of .936 and career record of 28-5-1-2.
“I have nothing but great things to say about the Vernal Oilers. I was in a position last off-season where I didn’t know where I was going to go and not sure if I would get an opportunity to be a No. 1 goalie but Vernal came in and gave me that opportunity and believed in me,” said Tarantino. “The organization just cares about their players. I’ve gotten connections to a bunch of college teams throughout the season because of our coaching staff reaching out and emailing different coaches trying to move us age-outs on to the next level. There’s not much in the town itself, but when you go to Vernal, you go to be a better hockey player and I think that’s the culture that they’ve built there already.”
He adds that the Oilers’ goaltending consultant Euan King was invaluable in pushing him to the level he attained this past season.
“The development I’ve gotten this year with the Oilers was significant. We have an unbelievable goaltending consultant in Euan King. We do video review with him after every game. Euan is the goalie coach for the Cardiff Devils in the Elite Ice Hockey League [in the United Kingdom] and over the course of the year, he did a great job of just simplifying my game and making minor adjustments which in the end I obviously saw huge improvement.”
He was happy to see it all come together when he received his All-Star honor at the end of the season.
“It’s obviously a great honor and I’m thankful and blessed for having the team and coaching staff helping me throughout the season and believing in me that I can be a top goalie in the league, so all thanks to them,” he said.
With Vernal, he obviously traveled around the northwest corner of the United States, but also took part in the USPHL Las Vegas Showcase and the Nationals, both big events that brought in scouts from across the country.
“I think the USPHL Premier does a good job with the exposure. Most teams go to showcases during the season where we’ll see out of division opponents and college coaches,” said Tarantino. “And then for the teams that make Nationals, that’s a great event to be a part of and there is a good amount of schools watching in person and on HockeyTV, so the exposure is very good for someone trying to move on to the next level.”
That next level is waiting in the form of UMass-Boston, a program that competes in the New England Hockey Conference and made the NCAA Division III Frozen Four as recently as 2016. Tarantino knows full well the excellence of the UMB program, and he can’t wait to physically be on campus for the first time in the late summer.
“I didn’t get to visit the campus, but seeing it from pictures it looks like an unreal location right on the water with the ice rink on campus, which makes travel very convenient,” added Tarantino. “Nothing is official yet as far as a major but I have been drawn to their sports business program which is something I have always been interested in doing if the course is available.”
He also knows he’s going to be getting an education in just how strong and accurate NCAA shots are, so he’s taking plenty of time to work on his game during this off-season in California.
“I think one thing for me this off-season is to stay in great shape, get stronger and to keep working on my speed and skating. Therefore, that creates a solid foundation for the summer, then fine-tune some things that maybe got away from me a little bit in the season, and finally probably continue to keep my game simple and staying calm and composed,” said Tarantino.
The USPHL congratulates Antonio Tarantino, his family, the Vernal Oilers and UMass-Boston for his commitment.