#USPHLPlayoffs: Vernal Oilers vs. Seattle Totems  

Northwest Division 

Seattle Totems (2) at Vernal Oilers (1) 

All Games to Be Played At Western Park Arena, Vernal, UT

Friday, March 8, 7 p.m. MST

Saturday, March 9, 7 p.m. MST

Sunday, March 10, 11:30 a.m. MST (If Necessary) 


By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com 


The Vernal Oilers certainly enjoyed the time they spent at the 2023 USPHL Nationals. The next step for that organization is to get back – and do better than the first time, and then why not do better than everyone else (isn’t that all teams’ goal?) Of course, for the Seattle Totems, the goal is just get there – and, yes, do better than everyone else. 

Each team has to get past the other to make these goals possible. Vernal held the edge against the Totems, winning the season series 5-0-1-0. Four of the games were decided by one goal, including the Totems’ Sept. 30 4-3 overtime victory that started the season series. 

“Our 5-0-1-0 record against Seattle isn’t indicative of how tight the games were,” said Owner/General Manager David Imonti. “We’re expecting a physical, close series that can go either way. We have a loud, passionate fan base and we hope they can be sort of an X-factor in this series as we will need all the support we can get to make the return to Utica.”

“It’s no secret that we only beat Vernal once in the regular season and that was in overtime,” added Seattle Head Coach Mike Butters. “Vernal is a very physical team and when they take the body, they can be very intimidating. They have a bevy of forwards who can shoot effectively from anywhere and that will be something we have to be aware of. They often send multiple players in on their forecheck and that can present some problems for us. We will have to be ready for that.”

The Totems got to this point by earning a two-game sweep of Casper, 6-3 and 5-1. 

“I thought our guys played well in the first round,” said Butters. “Our forwards executed well and converted on our chances and our defense, and despite our lack of offense, played strong.” 

Vernal took on Rogue Valley, and won 9-2 and 5-2, and Imonti sees lessons aplenty from that series that they’ll need to bring to bear against the Totems. 

“We had a solid first round and came out hard in Game 1 before leveling off a bit. We hope to be a bit more consistent and utilize our depth more against a talented Seattle club,” added Imonti. 

The Oilers finished as one of just four teams in the league to be led in scoring by a defenseman in the regular season. Veteran blueliner Filip Lezzani scored 48 points, while forwards Rodion Gornostaev and Chase Parry scored 42 and 41, respectively. Lezzani led the way in plus-minus at +39, and defensemen Jakub Bulik and Preston Laupitz each blocked 38 shots. 

Vernal goalie Levente Hegedus finished fourth in the USPHL Premier with a save percentage of .935, and his 16 wins were good for Top 10 in the league. Rogue Valley’s Kaeden Edstrom and Isaac Kolasa split the goaltending duties almost evenly, with Edstrom posting a .914 mark. 

Veteran Logan Powers, who put up a team-leading six points in two playoff games, came off a season of 27 points in 26 games. Gornostaev put up a 4-1-5 line to lead in goals. Levente Hegedus and Evan Stringer both got the wins in net. 

The Roughnecks are going to have to figure out how to stop an offense that features three players with 60 or more points – Seth Morris (64 points), Trevor Loucks (63 points) and Roman Wolynec (60 points). The Roughnecks have one of their own in Cameron Krause, who put up 66 points of his own. Fellow forwards Kristof Molnar and Kananga Mangala each finished with 47 points. Veteran Aiden Ma, who came with Randall from the former Rock Springs Prospectors, led the Roughnecks in plus-minus at +12, and defenseman Marko Cejka led the team in blocked shots with 47. 

Wolynec led the Totems in plus-minus with a +22, and defensemen Peter Konopka and Michael Karvelas each had 54 blocked shots on the season. 

“We will, invariably, have to get them into a track meet with us if we hope to have a chance. We will try to pace them and hope they don’t slow things down as they are effective at it,” said Butters. “Their goaltending is some of the best in the league and rely on their athleticism and sit back in their crease which is tough to score on. If we can get them to come out and challenge, it will give us a better shot at it.” 

The Totems picked up Camden Widgington from the Utica Jr. Comets in December, and he went 8-3-0-0 with the Totems with a .930 save percentage (he was 14-4-1-0 with a .928 save percentage for the full season). Around the same time that Widgington came to Seattle, veteran goalie Kai Rivas joined the Roughnecks from the Bellingham Blazers. He would finish 3-2-1-1 for the Roughnecks and his save percentage for the full season was .921. 

Widgington was strong again in net in the first round, putting up 38 saves on 42 shots to get the sweep. Roman Wolynec scored the first hat trick of the playoffs, and finished with nine points in two games to lead all Premier players in the first round. Karvelas was second with five points, and Trevor Lucks was four points in two games.