#USPHLNationals Premier Team Preview: Vernal Oilers

By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com


The Vernal Oilers were able to maintain their Northwest Division crown a second straight year and remain the only Northwest Division participants at the USPHL Nationals. The Northwest Division and its teams were welcomed to the league ahead of the 2022-23 season. 

“We are thrilled to be returning to Nationals this season. This is the goal we set for ourselves Day 1 of the season, and Coach [Ryan] Howse and myself are proud of the boys for what they’ve accomplished thus far,” said Owner/GM David Imonti. 

Vernal’s two-year record now is 63-14-7-4, which gives them a .778 winning percentage. This ranks them fifth among all Premier teams not part of the inaugural 2017-18 season, so they’ve certainly made a huge impression as a new team. Their next goal is to advance in the Nationals.

They lodged their historic first Nationals victory in 2023, defeating the Minnesota Moose, 6-4, in the Premier consolation game. They were unable to take wins in the Seeding Round, falling to the former New York Aviators (4-1) and Toledo Cherokee (3-1), but nor were they ever really out of reach of victories. 

The Oilers had their backs against the wall in both those games but still came out with late goals. They also just had their backs against the wall in their three-game series with the Seattle Totems. The Totems won Game 1, 5-4, but then the Oilers fully took over with 5-1 and 6-2 victories to close out the series and punch their Nationals ticket. 

“After a tight Game 1 in which we lost, I was proud of how our boys refocused and executed in Games 2 and 3,” said Imonti. “Nobody panicked, we stayed disciplined, and we stuck to our game plan and came out on top as a result. Last year we were pretty top-heavy (with Alex Bartakovics and Filip Molnar), but this year we focused on building a less explosive, but very deep, team that wins by committee and I truly believe that helped us get over the hump against a solid Seattle club.”

Logan Powers was extremely strong for the team in their series against Seattle as well as the prior series against Rogue Valley, a 2-0 series victory. Powers put up 10 points in five playoff games, while Rodion Gornostaev, Austin Osborn and Jonathan Jakshoj all registered eight points so far this postseason. 

Levente Hegedus has gone 3-1 with a .911 save percentage in net, while Evan Stringer put up a great 30-save performance in a victory against Rogue Valley. 

In comments sent before The Dan K Show Seeding Round Selection Show on MArch 13, Imonti said that part of the preparation would depend on scouting of their opponents while also taking care of areas they need to improve upon regardless of the drawing. 

“Once we know our opponents in the [Seeding Round], we can start to strategize, but until then, I think it’s a lot of fine-tuning the things we’ve been working on all season and making adjustments where needed,” he added. 

The Oilers were excited to learn of their first two games at Nationals on Wednesday evening, as they will take on fellow returning Nationals team the Fort Wayne Spacemen and the Pacific Division’s Ontario Jr. Reign.

They saw Ontario twice in a late October trip to California, and the Jr. Reign defeated Vernal 4-1 and 7-1 on Oct. 27 and Oct. 30, 2023. The Spacemen and Oilers will meet for the first time at Nationals. 

He goes on to say that, while strategizing against definite opponents is important, it also can’t be the end-all, be-all of their approach this time in Utica. 

“I think last season we focused too much on who we were playing and let that get to us a little bit,” said Imonti. “The top 16 teams in the country are taking part in this event, and I genuinely feel that everyone has a chance to win. There will be no easy matchups regardless of whom we play.”