Minneapolis, Minn.–Vinni Lettieri notched his first hat trick as a Gopher by scoring on the power play, a penalty shot, and converting an empty netter in Minnesota’s 4-2 win over Michigan in front of 10,042 at Mariucci Arena.
Lettieri’s 11 goals are second to Tyler Sheehy’s team leading 14 goals, and the senior has grown his game to contribute in all situations for #9 Minnesota (13-5-2, 5-1-0-0).
“Vinni really works at the game, he’s improved every year he’s been here. We’re really happy to see a guy like him be rewarded and have such a good senior year like he is,” said Don Lucia. “He’s playing with confidence, he’s on the power play, 4-on-4, A+ penalty killer, and he’s going to be out there at the end of the game like tonight. He’s responsible at both ends of the rink, he’s just taken his game to another level this year. You could see it coming last year and it’s just a continuation.”
Ryan Collins is another player who has taken his game to another level this season. The 6’5” defenseman had two assists Friday night and added a goal in Saturday’s game. Lucia said despite Collins’ past struggles, he’s moving the puck with authority again, moving it quickly, and head-manning the puck to keep their pace of our play up.
“It’s always great to contribute and feels good to finally be able to do that,” said Collins. “Just throughout this whole time you have to trust the process and what it comes down to is it’s all about the team winning, and we’ve been doing that lately, so that’s as fulfilling as anything.”
Minnesota stretched its winning streak to six-games where they’ve outscored their opponents 26-10 and killed off all 22 shorthanded situations. Lucia said he’s got confidence in the six forwards they’ve got in their penalty kill rotation and that obviously the big difference is how Eric Schierhorn is playing lately. Schierhorn didn’t see a ton of action Saturday, but made 17 saves on 19 shots, including making two saves on the penalty kill in the third period where Michigan had four power play opportunities.
Michigan (8-11-1, 1-5-0-0) struggled on the big ice Friday night to contain Minnesota, but made the game much tighter Saturday during the first period as they quickly extinguished the Gopher attack. After the intermission, Minnesota managed the puck much better and extended their lead to three.
“We wanted to clean it up. I think our second was probably our best period through the neutral zone,” said Collins. “The message was do everything quicker, Michigan came out quicker tonight. We needed to move the puck quicker, move our feet quicker, and we did that in the second–our forwards were great.”
The Gophers have had a lineup in flux all season and that continued Saturday. Brent Gates Jr. was sick with the flu and was replaced with Connor Reilly. Jack Sadek was slated to play Saturday night, but he came to the rink and threw up while the team was getting ready so Jack Glover had to go into the lineup.
The six-game winning streak will head to Madison next weekend for a series against Wisconsin (10-7-1, 3-1-0-0) who was off this weekend. It looks like Tommy Novak could be a question mark coming into the series after an awkward collision with Dexter Dancs late in the third period and Lucia said they won’t know more about the injury until he sees team doctors on Sunday.