Longtime state tournament TV analyst Lou Nanne, middle, has grandsons (Louie Nanne, left, and Vinni Lettieri) starring at both Edina and Minnetonka as juniors.
The situation was unlike anything Lou Nanne had ever experienced -– not having to pick sides in a hockey game that was guaranteed to give him a winner.
Sure, there would be some consoling to do on one end of his family.
But that was for mom and dad to worry about. Nanne was the grandpa.
“It was the best situation I’ve ever been in at a hockey game,” said Nanne, recounting the times he’s spent watching his grandsons Vinni Lettieri and Louie Nanne square off against each other.
“I just got to watch the boys and enjoy it. I could just root for them, hope they play well, and let the outcome decide itself.”
Then came summer, when the two boys had choices to make. Lou Nanne had a definite stake in the outcome, and freely admitted he wanted a say in the decisions.
Nanne, as he has so many times in both the hockey world and in business, won. In a matter of weeks, both Louie Nanne, a junior at Edina High School, and Lettieri, a junior at neighboring Minnetonka, committed to play college hockey at the University of Minnesota.
The elder Nanne skated for the Gophers, and he was an All-American defensemen with the team in 1963. His youngest son Marty -– Louie’s father -– also played at Minnesota.
Ultimately, Louie and Vinny will too. But it was never the cinch some expected it to be when Gophers coach Don Lucia extended scholarship offers to both.
Louie Nanne was also being courted by a number of eastern schools, while Lettieri had an offer from North Dakota to consider.
There was no wrong choice. Their grandfather made sure to deliver that message. But he made his pitch as well.
“I know for both of us he wanted the decision to be ours to make,” said Lettieri. “But I also know he also really wanted us to go play for the Gophers. I took my time, but in the end, it was hard to say no.”
But when they join the Gophers, pressure is sure to follow. There are few names in the Minnesota hockey community more familiar than Nanne.
Lettieri doesn’t wear the badge on the same level as his cousin, though his father Tino Lettieri was a huge Minnesota sports figure in his soccer playing days with the Minnesota Kicks and Strikers. Tino Lettieri also represented Canada in two Olympics and one World Cup.
“I know people see us and think we’ve had it easy,” Louie Nanne said. “We’ve faced trials. We know we are a target. For me, I’ve just tried to carve my own path. It’s obviously an honor to share a name with my grandfather, but I think both me and Vinni try and be our own person.”
Perceptions being what they may, national team roster spots and scholarship offers from the state’s premier college hockey program don’t get handed out because of the name on the back of a uniform.
Louie Nanne played for the Under-18 national team at the U18 Ivan Hlinka Tournament in Slovakia this past August. At the same time, Lettieri was in Ann Arbor, Mich., skating with Team USA in the Under-17 Five Nations Tournament.
Both committed to the Gophers shortly after their appearance on the national stage, but each had already cemented themselves into the lineups of a pair of power schools in Minnesota high school hockey.
Lettieri skated for Minnetonka his entire sophomore season and had 40 points for a team that won 16 games. Nanne scored 29 points in helping guide Edina to a fourth-place finish in the Class 2A boys state high school hockey tournament.
Nanne also played for the Hornets as a ninth-grader, finishing with five points, which included an assist in Edina’s state championship game victory over … Minnetonka.
“Yeah, that night was interesting,” Louie Nanne said. “Vinni was still playing Bantams, but my dad had a [suite] for the game, and Vinni’s mom Michelle was in it. We scored 26 seconds in, and she kicked something, so my dad kicked her out. She was upset, so she was out right away. I wasn’t that surprised, though. It’s a pretty competitive family.”
It’s that way between Vinni and Louie, too. They play like brothers. There is a winner. And a loser. Always.
It just so happens their opportunity to play it out comes inside one of high school hockey’s biggest rivalries.
“I don’t think we really care about each other when we are on the other team,” Lettieri said. “It’s bragging rights really, so we just go all out and try and hit each other. I remember last year, he got me good one time. It’s definitely super-competitive when we are playing.”
Soon, they will be together. But they will have decisions to make about their route to college hockey. Each has two years of high school eligibility remaining. They are committed to their high school teams this season. Next year, they might have to decide between remaining with their schools of playing junior hockey someplace.
Lucia will likely have a say, and with it being Louie Nanne’s draft year, he’s hoping a National Hockey League club has an opinion on the matter too.
Grandpa is sure to get his point across as well. For his part, Lou Nanne said there are few better moments in life than graduating with your high school class. And that’s not all.
“Maybe they even get the good fortune of going to a state tournament again,” said Lou Nanne, the television voice of the tournament since 1964. “If they go to junior, it might accelerate their short-term development. And it might not.
“I will tell them this: Playing in high school will not hold you back from your long-term goals. If they are good enough to play pro someday, that won’t change because they played another year of high school hockey.”