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#USPHLPlayoffs: Vernal Oilers vs. Rogue Valley Royals 

Rogue Valley Royals (4) at Vernal Oilers (1) 

All Games At Western Park Arena, Vernal, UT

Friday, March 1, 7 p.m. MST

Saturday, March 2, 7 p.m. MST 

Sunday, March 3, 11:30 a.m. MST (If Necessary) 

 

By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com 

 

A year ago, the Vernal Oilers made some history, becoming the first Northwest Division team to earn a USPHL Nationals berth. They worked hard, but finished just outside the Round of 16. This year, every team that competes in the Nationals will make the Round of 16, but for Vernal, the big test is making it there. 

The Oilers start their quest for a return trip to Nationals by once again facing the Rogue Valley Royals. The Oilers also played the Royals in the first round of the 2023 divisional playoffs, sweeping them with two shutout wins. This year, the Oilers went 5-0-1-0 in the 2023-24 season series, with the Royals winning a 5-4 overtime game on Jan. 6. General Manager David Imonti is not counting out the Royals from pulling off a similar coup in the postseason.

“Rogue Valley is a hard working team that plays with a lot of pride. They have good goaltending and made some acquisitions around the first of the year that really strengthened their roster,” Imonti added. “In our last series, the Royals handed us one of our few home losses of the season, and all of the games were very competitive. They were a completely different opponent from our first series against them. We are expecting them to be a tough matchup and one that we aren’t taking lightly.”

The Oilers closed the season at 29-9-4-2 for the top seed, and Rogue Valley put up a 13-29-2-0 mark to earn their way back into the postseason. 

“This series feels like the opportunity for redemption, as we faced a really solid Vernal Oilers team last year in Round 1 of playoffs, and it wasn’t even a competition,” said Royals Co-Owner/GM/Head Coach Bobby Ruddle. “This year, we know the Oilers are still very solid, which is why they are at the top of this division, but we plan to show up and compete. We had a point midseason where we were finally finding our groove, but of course then got riddled with injuries. We have a couple of those key players coming back from injury just in time for playoffs and our team is hoping to pick right back up where we left off and leave it all on the ice!” 

The Royals’ veteran leader (and local Medford, Ore., native) Tyler Hanson put up a 61-point season in 42 games. Another second-year Royal, Roberto Matias, put up 45 points and Andras Kehl registered 46 points and led the team in plus-minus with a +1. Defenseman Blaze Ebbinghaus registered a team-leading 62 blocked shots.  

“Looking at Rogue Valley, I believe they are the most improved team in the Northwest Division. They are a gritty team that competes as a group, not shying away from the physical play,” said Vernal Head Coach Ryan Howse. “From their goaltending out to their forwards, I believe they have a balanced attack. We look forward to an energetic, competitive first round match up with the Royals.”

The Oilers finished as one of just four teams in the league to be led in scoring by a defenseman. 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.

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