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Lucky and good

By MN Hockey Hub staff, 09/20/11, 1:13PM CDT


Baseball-swing goal from Minnetonka's Vinni Lettieri helps Southwest earn upset win

Team Southwest's Minnetonka's Vinni Lettieri breaks free for a shot ahead of Team Southeast's Cory Chapman of Burnsville. Photo by Helen Nelson

In his first year in the Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League, Minnetonka star forward Vinni Lettieri has been an impact player and a spark plug for Team Southwest.

His talent and energy was on display in the second period against Team Southeast in the Tuesday, Sept. 20, matchup at New Hope Ice Arena in New Hope.

Vinni Lettieri

Lettieri split two defenders at top speed, then knocked a falling puck that originally was stuck in his chest out of midair and past Southeast goalie Anders Franke.

“I just kept skating, it fell down and I just tried to swing at it and got a piece of it,” Lettieri said. “It was a lucky goal.”

For Team Southwest, luck has been an integral part of its season so far, and not in a good way. The team started off 1-4-1 before Tuesday's game despite having what it believes to be a loaded roaster.

“We have a lot of talent on our team, we haven’t been getting very lucky this past week with these losses and everything,” Lettieri said. “Tonight we got our first big real victory, so that will help with the next games.”

Southwest not only boasts talent, but also chemistry, considering six of its players come from Minnetonka, and many of them have spent years playing together on the same lines.

Lettieri, however, has succeeded mostly without the benefit of Skippers teammates. While Minnetonka's Max Coatta, Erik Baskin and Sam Rothstein have formed a line for much of the fall, Lettieri  believes meshing with unfamiliar players has helped him become a better player.

“All these guys are really easy to play with since they’re so talented,” Lettieri said. "It’s kind of good for me to step outside my Minnetonka line and work with some other players. It’s actually really fun.”

Lettieri, who also counts his cousin and recent University of Minnesota commit Lou Nanne as a Southwest teammate, said his college search recently became much more interesting.

“I’ve been recruited by a dozen colleges or so, this past couple weeks I’ve been narrowing it down to five colleges, and now I’m down to two,” Lettieri said, revealing Minnesota and North Dakota as his finalists.

As a sophomore last year, Lettieri had a breakout season, notching 17 goals, 23 assists, and plenty of attention from big name schools such as the Gophers.

Lettieri said Nanne’s recent decision to play for the Gophers shouldn’t have much of an effect on his decision.

“It’s my decision, and I’m going have to go where the best fit is for me,” Lettieri said.

-- Walker Orenstein, MN Hockey Hub Staff

Team Southeast's Will Merchant empties bag of tricks

Team Southeast’s Will Merchant had the puck on his backhand and a sliver of an opening. But he was way too far from the net to shoot.

Passing seemed like the best option.

Or was it?

Will Merchant

Merchant, an Eagan senior forward, has a bottomless bag of tricks. Just when you expect him to zig, he zags.

In this case, on Tuesday, Sept. 20 in a 7-6 loss to Team Southwest, just when you expect him to pass, he shots. A backhand shot. From 25 feet. Through traffic. Into the upper left corner.

“That one just happened,” said Merchant, who scored 33 goals and added 22 assists for 55 points in 31 games last season as the Wildcats finished third at the state tournament. “I have a pretty good backhand, but I don’t know. At that moment it just came off good.”

Merchant is a playmaker, too. He did the bulk of the work on a goal by linemate Andrew Commers of St. Thomas Academy. Merchant darted over the blue line, then stickhandled through heavy traffic, attracting a flock of Team Southwest defenders before dishing to an open Commers at the last second.

Merchant began the Elite League season on line with Eagan teammates Michael Zajac and Nick Kuchera. Some Week 2 shuffling ended with all three players on different forward units. Like Merchant’s new line, the combination of Zajac, Jake Guentzel of Hill-Murray and Justin Kloos of Lakeville South has been consistently potent.

“I’m fine with it,” Merchant said about Team Southeast coach Sean Toomey’s line juggling. “I’ve got a whole season to play with (Zajac and Kuchera). Might as well switch up here, I guess.”

-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

Zach Hnath

Zach Hnath of Rogers scored with 6 minutes, 57 second remaining to lift Team Southwest past previously undefeated Team Southeast 7-6 on Tuesday, Sept. 20, in an Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League matchup at New Hope Ice Arena in New Hope.

Hnath’s goal capped a wildly entertaining comeback for Team Southwest, which trailed 5-3 entering the final period.

Luc Snuggerud of Eden Prairie and Vinni Lettieri of Minnetonka scored 23 seconds apart in the opening 2 minutes of the third to tie the score at 5.

Jake Guentzel of Hill-Murray put Team Southeast ahead again, 6-5, with 7:44 remaining. But another two-goal flurry from Team Southwest, this time the goals coming 14 seconds apart from from Minnetonka’s Eric Baskin and Hnath, clinched just the second win of the season for Team Southwest (2-4-1).

Team Southeast (6-1-0) was whistled for three penalties compared to none for Team Southwest.
Nick Malvin of Blaine stopped 11 of 12 shots in the third period and made 33 saves overall to earn the victory. Anders Franke of Elk River Finished with 32 stops.

Team Southeast pulled Franke with just less than 2 minutes remaining and applied heavy pressure in the Southwest zone. The game ended with Malvin turning aside a point-blank shot by Cory Chapman of Burnsville just before the final buzzer sounded.

-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

1. Zach Hnath, Team Southwest
A 6-foot-2, 170-pound senior from Rogers, Hnath scored the game-winner late in the third period and registered an assist as Team Southwest handed Team Southeast its first loss in seven Elite League games.

2. Vinni Lettieri, Team Southwest
The junior sniper from Minnetonka scored twice. One of his goals was a highlight-clip classic, as he split the Team Southeast defense and managed to swat a flying puck out of midair and past goaltender Anders Franke of Elk River.

3. Will Merchant, Team Southeast
The Eagan senior scored on a long-range backhand shot that found the upper corner of the net and set up linemate Andrew Commers of St. Thomas Academy for a goal with a perfectly placed pass after some nifty stickhandling drew several Team Southwest defenders.

-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

Photo Gallery


Statistical Leaders

How They've Fared

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