On men’s hockey team, Lettieri finds his stride in senior season

The forward scored his first career hat trick last weekend against Michigan.

Gophers forward Vinni Lettieri chases the puck into the corner against Michigan on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017 at Mariucci Arena.

Carter Jones

Gophers forward Vinni Lettieri chases the puck into the corner against Michigan on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017 at Mariucci Arena.

Drew Cove

Senior forward Vinni Lettieri hasn’t always been a staple for the Gophers but is truly proving in his final season the impact he can make.

As No. 7 Minnesota (13-5-2) prepares for a border battle matchup against rival Wisconsin, Lettieri quietly continues to prepare the way he has for four years.

“Coming to the rink ready every day,” Lettieri said. “Having two good workouts with [strength and conditioning coach] Cal [Dietz] … We’ve got to keep working hard and get ready for them this weekend.”

Lettieri is coming off a weekend that included his first career hat-trick.

The hat-trick was especially unique due to the ways the goals were scored: the first on the power play, the second on a short-handed penalty shot and the third to seal the victory was an empty net goal.

The senior forward said it was a good weekend for both him and the team. Hard work during the week was key to the success that they all had.

Letttieri is playing some of the best hockey of his career right now and is on pace for his highest season point total.

“He came in as a true freshman,” said head coach Don Lucia. “It wasn’t like he was a 20, 21-year-old freshman, so there’s going to be natural improvement from your freshman to your senior year.”

In two seasons at Minnetonka High School, the forward scored 95 points in 50 regular season games and scored five points in five playoff games.

Lettieri moved on to play with the Lincoln Stars in the United States Hockey League during his senior year.

He was almost a point-per-game player, with 56 points in 61 games.

By the time he got to Minnesota, he wasn’t expecting much.

“When I came in as a freshman, I was [on the] fourth line, just trying to not get scored on really, but now as you go up, you’ve got to produce. Now, I’m at the time of my career here where I’m a production player,” Lettieri said. “You take on new roles as years go on, and now I’m just happy where I’m at and I’m just going to keep improving.”

Lettieri has 11 goals this season — his career high — and has nine assists, his second highest total with Minnesota, behind the 19 assists he recorded last season.

He has primarily been playing on a line with forwards Leon Bristedt and Tommy Novak, but with Novak out for the season with a lower-body injury, it looks like Lettieri will move to center and have a new winger.

“I definitely have good chemistry with Leon,” Lettieri said. “I’ve been playing with him a lot, and we’ve been playing a lot together since I’ve been here. And off the ice, I hang out with him too.”

The senior has been named Big Ten Second Star of the Week twice this season — on Nov. 29, 2016 and for this past weekend on Jan. 17

“Vinni has always put in a lot of time,” Lucia said. “He’s one of those guys that [is] always in the weight room. He takes care of himself, he stays out after practice, he’s on [the ice] early. He’s always working on his game because he wants to be a player, and all of that hard work has paid off for him.”