#USPHLCommitments: Squatch Defenseman Vignaroli Commits To Salem State University

By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com 


Gunner Vignaroli has been over a lot of miles in recent years, but he is excited that his next road heads east to Salem, Mass., where he will join the Salem State University Vikings for an NCAA hockey career. 

Within the USPHL alone, he has played in Florida, Massachusetts, Colorado, Utah and – in the end – with the Minnesota Squatch. He closed out the 2022-23 season with the first-year team, posting 10 points in 11 games at the blue line, and then adding a pair of assists over the Squatch’s first five playoff games. 

“Around April is when [Salem State] showed big interest,” said Vignaroli, who committed to the NCAA Division III institution on May 23. “They have a great reputation, by having the same head coach [Bill O’Neill] for more than 30 years. There was a lot of good feedback from others on the college. They also have a good reputation for their business degrees.” 

[It should be noted that, on May 31, Salem State announced that O’Neill is stepping down after 42 years].

Vignaroli, an ‘02 native of Granger, Iowa, got a chance to visit Salem State this spring, and took in the atmosphere of the campus in a small, urban city that is famous for … honestly, witches and witchcraft. The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 still fascinate history buffs and are still among the biggest colonial-era moments in United States history. And, oh, does Salem revel in the history – more than 900,000 tourists flock to the city every October to soak in Halloween-themed events and the overall atmosphere surrounding America’s macabre holiday. 

“The campus is beautiful and close to the water. Very nice rink and gym with extra perks. They also had very welcoming staff and students,” said Vignaroli. 

Vignaroli was excited to have helped contribute to a strong first year for the Squatch, who put together a 29-10-2-3 record to finish second in the Midwest West Division. They got past their first playoff series in a two-game sweep against the Isanti Outlaws and tangled with the Minnesota Moose for three games with a Nationals berth on the line, winning Game 1 by a 6-0 score before falling in the next two. 

“I think they did a very good job on the structure they built. They proved a lot of people wrong, thinking they were going to be last in the league,” said Vignaroli, of the Squatch and their inaugural season. “The person that gave me interest to go there was [fellow Squatch] Daniel Ellingson. He lived at my house the year before while playing for the Des Moines Buccaneers AAA program.

“They did a great job of getting fans to games and packing the rink for some. They had a great coaching staff on and off the ice, which made everyone feel like a big family. The coaches loved to push me in practices but also make them fun,” said Vignaroli. “I think a lot of coaches forget the game is supposed to be fun and work people to the point they quit sometimes or leave. We had plenty of access to on-ice and off-ice training. We had an hour after our practice on ice to work on whatever we wanted.” 

Vignaroli, who had also played in the USPHL Premier with teams in Massachusetts, Colorado and Utah and played in the USPHL 16U with the Florida Jr. Blades in 2018-19, was always impressed with the league’s reach and came back to make it his final junior destination after playing in different Midget and Tier III leagues. 

“I think it’s a great league with a lot of great players. It’s good at developing them for the next level, whether that is college or Tier II,” said Vignaroli. “There is also a good amount of scouts that show up for the showcases, which helps a lot.”

Vignaroli lists a few items he’s working on this spring and summer to be sharp enough to hit the ice for Vikings games at top effectiveness this fall. 

“Strength and explosiveness by being in the gym five to six days a week. On-ice drills for edge work and game situation drills,” he said. “I will also be working on stamina and conditioning by going for some runs or short distance sprints.”

The USPHL congratulates Gunner Vignaroli, his family, the Minnesota Squatch and Salem State University for his commitment.