By Jonathan West / USPHL.com
Vernal Oilers (1) vs. Rogue Valley Royals (4)
All games at Western Park Arena
Friday, March 3, 8:30 p.m. MST
Saturday, March 4, 8:30 p.m. MST
Sunday, March 5, 1 p.m. MST (if necessary)
Finishing the regular season with 73 points and ranking eighth in the USPHL, the Oilers of Eastern Utah want to show their three home losses this year are very much the exception and not the rule.
The leading team in the Northwest also leads the division in penalty minutes (945)- averaging over 21 per game, so staying out of the box might be a key to victory. Winless in their last three games entering the postseason, the Oil also have yet to notch an overtime victory all year. Vernal Head Coach Mike Gennello looks at junior hockey’s second season as a clean slate.
The Oilers came out of the regular season with the league’s leading scorer, with Alex Rene Bartakovics posting 121 points. Also in the Top 10 was Filip Molnar, who put up 88 points in 35 games. Both were tendered for the Provo Predators’ forthcoming NCDC team in 2023-24.
“We’re approaching this weekend like a brand new season, every team now with a 0-0 record,” added Gennello. “We know Rogue Valley is going to come here looking to make us earn every inch. Our guys are prepared to work and earn everything we get.”
The Oilers went 6-0 against Rogue Valley, though they played to a close 5-4 Oilers victory on Oct. 8.
Rogue Valley has entertained large Medford, Ore., crowds all year as a new franchise and member of the USPHL. Winning out last weekend’s play-in series against Bellingham now has the Crown facing a team they’ve never won against.
The squad from Southern Oregon were able to post just three wins on the road all year. The Royals must improve on their road penalty kill percentage, which is last in the league. Head Coach Bobby Ruddle knows this may be a battle of Biblical proportions.
“As a first year franchise, we couldn’t be happier with the group of boys we have and the sheer fact that we made playoffs in our inaugural season,” said Ruddle. “With that being said, we aren’t naive to the team that we are gearing up to face this weekend. They have had an incredible season and they are a very strong team. We are choosing to view this as our David vs. Goliath moment, and we have zero intention of going down without a fight!”