Minnetonka's Erik Baskin, middle, battles for position with Burnsville's Sam Dockry (37) in front of Blaze goaltender Nic Anderson. Photo by Helen Nelson
Minnetonka’s plan was to start fast. To score a couple of early goals. To get the crowd roaring.
Burnsville executed it perfectly.
The Blaze had their rowdy student section – which was at least as large as Minnetonka’s – bouncing on the ’Tonka-blue bleachers for much of the opening period as they surged to a two-goal lead over the stunned Skippers at the Pagel Activity Center.
“Their fans were going nuts,” Minnetonka coach Brian Urick said. “One of the things we wanted to focus on was the first five minutes, and we went out and stood around. They took it to us.”
With six forwards who spent the fall playing in the ultra-competitive Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League, Minnetonka is as well-equipped as any team in the state to score goals in by the freight load.
“We’ve got four good lines, and they all can score,” said Minnetonka junior Vinni Lettieri, who scored twice in the Skippers’ 7-3 victory on Thursday, Dec. 1. “It doesn’t matter who we put out there.”
Minnetonka's Vinni Lettieri had two goals and two assists in the Skippers' 7-3 victory over Burnsville. Photo by Helen Nelson
It doesn’t hurt to have two of the state’s premiere snipers on the same line. Letteiri, who has committed to play at the University of Minnesota, and fellow junior Max Coatta each scored twice in a performance that could serve as an instructional video on how to create – and finish -- scoring chances.
Coatta hit at least two posts, and Lettieri fired just high or wide on several occasions. The third member of the forward line, sophomore Jack Ramsey, stands 6-foot-2 and might as well have carried a shovel and pick axe for all his digging in the corners. He finished with three assists.
“We’re the type of team that can be clutch in these types of games because we have the right players in the right roles,” said Lettieri, who had two assists as part of his four-point night.
Lettieri’s role is deposit the puck in the net. Same goes for Coatta. If one of them isn’t scoring a goal, the other is.
“They are like hyenas out there, just waiting, waiting, waiting to go,” Urick said. “They are very skilled hockey players.”
Coatta and Lettieri each have three goals in two games. Last season Lettieri scored 17 goals and Coatta had 15.
“They are both so good, and they click so well together,” Minnetonka senior Sam Rothstein said. “They are both just pure goal scorers. They are fun to watch.”
Rothstein, who has six points in two games, centers Eric Baskin and Connor Thie on yet another potent Skippers line. Rothstein had a goal and two assists against the Blaze, and Thie scored his third goal of the season. Rothstein has six points, second only to Coatta’s seven.
“He is playing unbelievable,” Lettieri said. “He’s doing everything a leader should do, he’s playing great defense, he’s moving the puck.”
Burnsville defenseman Teemu Kivihalme races ahead of Minnetonka's Jack Ramsey. Photo by Helen Nelson
There’s no such thing as easing into the season for Burnsville.
The Blaze typically have opened their schedule against longtime state powerhouses Edina and Hill-Murray, who have a combined 12 state championships.
This season’s game against Edina was pushed back to mid-January, making room for Minnetonka. Blaze coach Janne Kivihalme sprung at the chance to square off against the Skippers, who were solidly in the top in most every preseason state Class 2A rankings.
“We needed to get a good game like this in,” Kivihalme said. “We saw a lot of things that we need to work on, and some things that we are doing good currently.
“That’s why we schedule teams like Minnetonka early in the season. It helps us build for the future.”
The future comes quickly for Burnsville, which hosts Hill-Murray on Saturday and Benilde-St. Margaret’s, another consensus top-five team, on Dec. 8.
As for weaknesses that were exposed in Burnsville’s 7-3 loss to Minnetonka, the Blaze have plenty according to Kivihalme.
“Well, what wouldn’t we want to be working on?” he said. “No. 1 is the competing. Minnetonka has a lot of returning players, they play at a high tempo for all three periods.”
Max Coatta and Connor Thie scored in the opening minute of the second period as Minnetonka broke open a tie game and surged past Burnsville 7-3 on Thursday, Dec. 1, at the Pagel Activity Center in Minnetonka.
Linemates Max Coatta and Vinni Lettieri each scored twice for the Skippers (2-0-0), who outshot the Blaze 34-14.
Burnsville’s Cory Chapman scored 37 seconds into the opening period, and Dan Ames put the Blaze (0-1-0) ahead 2-0 with less than 8 minutes remaining in the first, energizing a large and rowdy Burnsville student section.
Coatta and defenseman Jack Teal scored late in the second period for Minnetonka to tie the score at 2 and ignite a run of six unanswered Skippers goals.
Chapman scored his second of the game in the final minute of the second period to make the score 6-3. Lettieri scored the only goal of the third period on a shorthanded breakaway.
Burnsville junior goaltender Nic Anderson made 27 saves. Paul Ciaccio, a junior making his first varsity start, had 11 saves for the Skippers.
Both teams went 1-for-4 on the power play.
1. Sam Rothstein, Minnetonka
The senior center was involved in two of the prettiest plays of the night, setting up a power-play goal on an end-to-end rush he concluded with a nifty drop pass to Max Coatta, and taking a breakaway feed from linemate Connor Thie and going upper corner. Rothstein finished with a goal and two assists.
2. Vinni Lettieri, Minnetonka
A junior who has committed to play at the University of Minnesota, Lettieri scored twice and had two assists in a dominating performance for his forward line that included Coatta (two goals) and sophomore Jack Ramsey (three assists).
3. Cory Chapman, Burnsville
The crafty senior forward scored two of his goals and helped generate several other scoring chances while playing with Mason Wyman and Hunter Anderson on what was by far the Blaze’s most effective forward line.