Minnetonka's Vinni Lettieri, far right, celebrates his third-period goal against Roseau and goaltender Mike Tangen, far left. Also pictured are Minnetonka's Sam Rothstein (23) and Roseau's Justin Anderson (3). Photo by Helen Nelson
After riding three future Division I defensemen to the brink of a state title last spring, Minnetonka begins a new season with a new identity.
Talk about an extreme makeover
“We don’t have the horses we did last year, we have good hockey players, but they are going to have to win a different way if we are going to be successful,” Minnetonka coach Brian Urick said. “We don’t have the (Andrew) Prochnos and (Justin) Holls going coast to coast, the back door plays.
“We are going to have to win ugly. And we did tonight.”
Yeah, there definitely was an element of ugly in Minnetonka’s 5-4 triumph over Roseau on Saturday, Dec. 4, at Pagel Activity Center, but nothing could have been prettier for the Skippers in the closing minutes than to twice see junior Sam Rothstein with the puck on his stick and nothing but open ice and the Roseau net in front of him.
“He always seems to find a way to get the puck on his stick,” Skippers senior forward Connor Ryan said about Rothstein. “You’ve got to watch out for that kid, because he’s got great wheels and he’s got a great hockey sense.”
Minnetonka's Thomas Schutt fires a shot at Roseau goaltender Mike Tangen. Photo by Helen Nelson
Displaying uncanny anticipation, and benefitting from a bit of luck, Rothstein turned two Roseau turnovers into goals in a span of 3 minutes, 15 seconds to break a 3-3 tie and give the Skippers (2-0-0) a 5-3 lead with 1:33 remaining.
On Rothstein’s first goal, he simply was cruising through the high slot when a Roseau player mishandled the puck behind the net, the errant pass landing squarely on Rothstein’s stick. He wasted little time in unwrapping the surprise gift, snapping a high shot over Roseau goaltender Mike Tangen’s shoulder.
Rothstein’s second goal came in similar fashion, as he parlayed a steal in the Roseau zone into a breakaway chance, which he slickly converted.
“His a little guy that you never see get hit,” Urick said about the 5-foot-9, 160-pound Rothstein. “He is quick and agile, he seems to understand where everyone is.
“And he anticipates the game really well.”
Rothstein, who played as an alternate in the Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League in the fall, scored seven goals for the Skippers last season as they reached the state Class 2A title game.
With the graduation of standout defensemen Troy Hesketh, Prochno and Holl, it’s no secret Minnetonka players such as Rothstein are the first in line when it comes to shouldering more of the scoring burden this season.
Minnetonka has won its opening two games this season (against Hibbing and Roseau) by a one goal each. Last season the Skippers won their opening five games by a combined score of 38-1. Minnetonka eventually lost to Edina in the state Class 2A championship game.
“All the guys coming back from last year have to step up a little bit more this year,” Rothstein said. “We need to produce a little bit more than last year. I guess play a little bit bigger role.”
Roseau sophomore defenseman Tanner Okeson, left, leaves a Minnetonka player in his wake. Photo by Helen Nelson
Although Roseau, a longtime powerhouse that has won seven state championships, is off at an 0-3-0 start that includes losses to Thief River Falls, Blaine and Minnetonka, Rams coach Andy Lundbohm likes the combination of talent and grit he sees in his team.
“We had good effort all day long,” Lundbohm said. “When the effort is there, the play will come along. We’re making mistakes, but we’re working hard.
“I see in that lockerrom that we have very good competitors, good kids. It’s going to turn around.”
Roseau’s upcoming schedule includes an Iron Range swing for games against Grand Rapids and Hibbing on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 10-11.
Minnetonka senior forward Connor Ryan, who scored a goal against Roseau, was shifted onto a top line with Max Coatta and Thomas Schutt after the first period.
While he was a force with his ferocious forechecking, his aggressiveness led to a penalty in the closing stages of the win over the Rams.
Ryan watched the final few frantic seconds from the penalty box, praying Roseau wouldn’t tie the score and force overtime.
“In the penalty box I was going crazy,” Ryan said. “Our managers were right there and they were trying to calm me down. It was great that we pulled it off.”
After Saturday’s game players from both the Skippers and the Rams gathered in the lobby for a catered meal of salad, pizza and other menu items from just down the street at Tino’s Café Pizzeria.
The café is owned by former Minnesota Kicks and Strikers goalie Tino Lettieri, whose son, Vinni, is a standout sophomore for the Skippers.
Vinni has three goals in two games this season, including one against the Rams.
Junior forward Sam Rothstein scored twice in a span of 3 minutes, 15 seconds late in the third period to propel Minnetonka past Roseau 5-4 in a rare battle of the traditional state powers on Saturday, Dec. 4, at Pagel Activity Center in Minnetonka.
Rothstein’s goals, both of which came off Roseau turnovers, highlighted a whacky third period that saw the teams erupt for seven of the game’s nine goals.
The teams combined for five power goals, but it was Rothstein’s shorthanded goal with 1:33 left that proved to be the winner. He stole the puck in the Rams’ defensive zone and then fooled Roseau goaltender Mike Tangen with a deke to put Minnetonka (2-0-0) ahead 5-3.
Roseau’s Travis Connell scored a power-play goal with 1:02 left to set up a tension-filled finish that included another Minnetonka penalty, on Connor Ryan, that gave Roseau 6-on-4 advantage after the Rams pulled Tangen in favor of an extra skater.
Glockner finished with 24 saves for the Skippers while Tangen had 27 saves for the Rams (0-3-0).
It was the first regular-season meeting between Roseau and Minnetonka, although the teams have met in the state tournament. Both teams reached the state Class 2A tournament last season, with Minnetonka losing to Edina in the title game and Roseau, which has won seven state titles, losing to Duluth East in the consolation title game.
1. Sam Rothstein, Minnetonka
The 5-foot-9 junior forward scored twice in a 3:15 span late in the first period, both times taking advantage of turnovers in the Roseau defensive zone. Right-place, right –time Rothstein proved he can score in different ways, too, getting his first goal on a wicked snap shot into the upper reaches of the net and scoring the second – and game-winner – on a nifty breakaway move.
2. Connor Ryan, Minnetonka
A senior co-captain, Ryan was a demon on the forecheck, creating all sorts of problems for the Roseau defense and scoring opportunities for he teammates. Ryan capitalized on one of those chances himself, scoring with 8 minutes remaining in the third to give Minnetonka a short-lived 3-2 lead.
3. Tanner Okeson, Roseau
Remember this name, because you will undoubtely hear it again. And again. The 6-2 Okeson is well on his way to becoming the next great Roseau defenseman. He quarterbacked a power play that went 3-for-8. Included among those power-play goals was one by Okeson late in the second period.
Minnetonka's Connor Ryan. Photo by Helen Nelson