USA youngsters surprise Gophers with tie

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 27, 2012 - 8:45 AM

Vinni Lettieri was in Nebraska preparing to take a road trip this weekend to Youngstown and Indianapolis with the USHL Lincoln Stars.

Instead, the former Minnetonka Skippers forward got a call out of the blue to pack his bags and join the USA Under-18 National Team for a weekend series at the University of Minnesota and the University of St. Thomas.

Friday night, Lettieri -- the grandson of former Gophers defenseman and North Stars player, coach and general manager Lou Nanne and the son of former Minnesota Kicks and Strikers goalkeeper Tino Lettieri -- suited up in red, white and blue in an exhibition game against the Gophers.

In front of his grandpa and father, his screaming mother, Michelle, uncle Marty and cousin Tyler, Lettieri scored the game's first goal and was plus-2 in a surprising 2-2 tie with the Gophers, the team he has verbally committed to play for.

"I just kept thinking about [playing for the Gophers]," said Lettieri, 17, who hopes to wear maroon and gold next season. "Not a lot of people get to do this. It was an experience I'll never forget."

Wearing No. 23 -- his grandfather's old North Stars number -- Lettieri buzzed all night on a line with Connor Hurley, a fellow injury replacement from Edina High School whom the Gophers are recruiting.

Lettieri, who hasn't scored in six games for the Stars, buried Hurley's pass so hard, it's amazing he didn't rip a hole through the twine. The goal came an instant after Lettieri crushed defenseman Jake Parenteau behind the net and one shift after Seth Helgeson clobbered Lettieri in the corner.

That impressed Lou Nanne more than the goal.

"I liked that," Nanne said. "He's a finesse player. He's skilled with his hands and shooting. But that's what he's developing. He's learning to take the body more, which is really good."

Thirty-three seconds later, Tyler Motte scored a breakaway goal. But the Gophers rallied for two goals in the second in large part because of a five-minute major on Mike McCarron.

Late on the power play, Tom Serratore whistled a bullet through an A.J. Michaelson screen before Nick Bjugstad tied the score late off a beautiful feed from Justin Holl.

The Gophers outshot the team made up of high-schoolers 20-5 in the second and 41-29 in the game. Goalie Thatcher Demko, uncommitted to college, was terrific with 39 saves, robbing the Gophers left and right, especially Bjugstad on a third-period breakaway. Coach Don Lucia was happy with Michael Shibrowski's 27-save effort.

Friday provided Gophers fans a look at Hudson Fasching, weeks from signing a letter of intent with the Gophers. But the former Apple Valley standout didn't play in the third after appearing to be dazed after a hard hit from Serratore.

"We don't know if he's OK yet," coach Don Granato said.

The Gophers also lost Parenteau in the third after he was struck by a shot on the knee. Lucia said he thinks it's just a bruise. The Gophers host Canisius at 1 p.m. Sunday. Defenseman Mark Alt and forward Kyle Rau will return from injury, while defenseman Brady Skjei will miss the game.

"The most important thing [Friday] was just to continue the evaluation process with some of our guys," Lucia said.

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