Minnetonka’s forwards have the star power.
Junior Vinni Lettieri has committed to play at the University of Minnesota. Junior Max Coatta has been a goal-scoring phenom since he was a freshman. Seniors Sam Rothstein and Erik Baskin are the definition of clutch.
Connor Thie and Jack Ramsey both played in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League.
The list goes on.
The Skippers’ corps of defensemen doesn’t have the same cachet, but more and more evidence is accumulating that these guys can play, too.
“Everyone talks about the forwards and all the high end guys we have, but the key to the team, I think, is having all of our defensemen back,” Minnetonka coach Brian Urick said after the No. 2-ranked Skippers beat Edina 6-0 in the semifinals of the Schwan Cup Gold Division on Tuesday, Dec. 27, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
The shutout was the third of the season for Minnetonka (10-0-0). The Skippers have allowed just one goal three times this season. Goaltenders Matt Behounek and Paul Ciaccio each rank among the state leaders in save percentage.
“They are kind of our unsung heroes,” Urick said about his six-defenseman rotation that includes brothers Joe and Jimmy Schuldt, Michael Prochno, Tom Vannelli, Jack Teal and Steve Johnson. “We haven’t been giving up many shots a game. They have been playing real good in the neutral zone.
“We’ll keep letting the forwards get all the publicity and our D will just keep going to work.”
The Skippers’ defensemen have chipped in with timely goals, too. Like the one Vannelli scored on a shot from the blue line just before the horn sounded to end the second period. That goal put the Skippers ahead 5-0 heading into the third period.
“I didn’t really know how much time was left, I just tried to get it off quick,” Vannelli said. “That was huge because that killed their momentum a bit going into the third.”
More important than the goal for Vannelli was the zero sitting on the other side of the scoreboard.
“Going into this game we don’t really say we aren’t going to let them score a goal, but coming into the third we saw they had nothing up there, so that was our goal, to not let them score.”
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor
Coaches on both sides of Minnetonka's surprising 6-0 victory over Edina did their best to keep their players looking at a bigger picture.
For the youthful Hornets, who have two seniors on the roster, the Schwan Cup Gold Division loss was a challenge.
“They haven’t had somebody put them on their backs like this yet,” Edina coach Curt Giles said after the Tuesday, Dec. 27, matchup at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. “This will be good for them to see how they respond.”
For the deep, experienced and second-ranked Skippers (10-0-0), the goal is staying on task.
Coach Brian Urick said No. 5 Edina (8-2-0) exploited a few of the Skippers’ dents, though the final score provided ample touch up and paint.
Two goals from junior forward Max Coatta fueled a three-goal first period and Minnetonka never looked back.
“We wanted to come out and put the pressure on them and off of ourselves,” Coatta said.
Tuesday’s game, the first of three regular season meetings this season between the Lake Conference hockey powers, marked the seventh time in 10 games the Skippers allowed one goal or less.
Tuesday was also the first time these teams met at the Xcel Energy Center since Edina upset Minnetonka in the 2010 state Class 2A championship game.
Winning Tuesday hardly evens the score, but it gives credence to the Skippers’ chances for a title shot this season.
Future Gopher Vinni Letteri tallied two assists in the first period. A third-period goal from Phil Katopodis gave Minnetonka a 6-0 cushion and put the game into running time.
-- David La Vaque, Star Tribune staff writer
1. Max Coatta, Minnetonka
The junior forward scored the Skippers’ first and third goals from almost the same sharp-angled patch of ice just left of the goal. His first goal came on a rising backhand and his second was the completion of a pretty three-way passing play with Vinni Lettieri and Sam Rothstein.
2. Tommy Vannelli, Minnetonka
Minnetonka’s defensemen typically don’t get a lot of recognition on a team with a half-dozen or more elite level forwards, but Vannelli was part of a group that effectively limited Edina’s chances all game. He also chipped in with a goal and an assist, the goal coming just fractions of a second before the horn sounded to end the second period.
3. Paul Ciaccio, Minnetonka
The junior wasn’t tested often, but he stood his ground when the Hornets crashed the net, limited the rebounds and played his angles to perfection en route to the 23-save shutout. He lowered his save percentage to .936, fifth best in the state.
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor