When Vinni Lettieri walked the red carpet last Saturday, no one asked what designer the Gophers forward was wearing. He was dressed exactly like the other seniors being honored before a game at Mariucci Arena: in a white Gophers hockey jersey with maroon and gold accents, accessorized with shin pads and athletic tape.
Off the ice, however, Lettieri’s singular style sets him apart. His fashion-forward ensembles are often a highlight of the Gophers’ postgame gatherings, where teammates and their parents can’t wait to see what the Excelsior native will wear. It might be the burgundy paisley dinner jacket. Or the black, white and gray checked suit. Perhaps the cadet-blue blazer with the peaked lapels and baby blue microdots, or the tone-on-tone floral shirt.
There’s no question about the look Lettieri favors most. It’s the padded-shoulder power suit, the one with the M on the chest, that he wears for a few hours on weekend nights — including Friday, when the Gophers play Penn State in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena.
That has been Lettieri’s most-photographed outfit during his breakout senior year. Still, the third-generation clotheshorse loves dressing for life on dry land, where he can allow his individualism to shine.
“I’d say my look goes with my personality,” said Lettieri, who has a career-high 18 goals and 35 points this season. “I’m an extrovert, and I think that’s how my clothes are: pretty out there, out of the ordinary.
“When I went shopping for this [blue-and-white checked] suit coat, the sales guy thought I was going to the Kentucky Derby. He didn’t know this is my everyday look. I’m never afraid to try new things when it comes to clothes.”
That drew a fair share of teasing when Lettieri was a freshman. His teammates soon learned his fashion sense simply reflects who he is, just as his work ethic, versatility and dedication to the group characterize him as a player.
Senior captain Justin Kloos, a close friend, said the Gophers now appreciate Lettieri’s style — even if they don’t plan to emulate it.
“We let him do his own thing,” Kloos said. “The best thing about his sense of style is, he has the confidence to try anything. He’s not scared to wear a blueberry suit to a game.”
That love of fashion flows from Lettieri’s family roots in Italy, perhaps the world’s most style-obsessed culture. His grandfather, Lou Nanne, cultivated an enviable wardrobe during his days as a North Stars player and executive, and he still is known for his colorful sweaters and unique shirts.
Lettieri’s father, Tino, was born in Italy. Though Tino joked that his attire now is limited to two colors — “black and dark black” — he sported Versace ties, Gucci shoes and flashy suits during his career as a pro soccer goalkeeper. “I never wore jeans until my wife forced them on me,” said Tino, who played for the Minnesota Kicks and Strikers in the 1980s. “That’s the European way, and Vinni adopted that look.”
Vinni’s closet is stuffed with 40 pairs of shoes, five suits, six sport coats and two fedoras. Though he isn’t the most outrageous dresser among the Gophers — that title, he said, belongs to cousin Tyler Nanne — Lettieri freely experiments with colors and patterns.
He likes shirts with contrasting cuffs to flip over the sleeves of his jacket. His accessory game is strong, with bracelets, tie bars and watches in multiple colors. The one constant is the gold Italian horn that hangs around his neck.
“I like to go for different combinations,” Lettieri said. “And if there’s ever a new pattern, I’ll always go for that. I like to expand my reach.”
That wasn’t always the case. Though Vinni liked dressing up by the time he reached the bantam ranks, Tino Lettieri said his son wasn’t interested in high style until he began noticing the looks worn by some of the NHL’s most dapper players.
Vinni wanted to dress like them, but first, he wanted to play like them. His approach to hockey resembles his fashion sensibility; he doesn’t shy away from the big and bold, yet he understands the importance of tending to the details.
Though Lettieri met his basic goal of improving every season at the U, he worked to make a bigger leap as a senior. He expanded the range of consultants who help hone his shooting, stickhandling and skating. He watches the Wild’s occasional practices at Ridder Arena to study players’ habits. Last summer, he played in an informal summer league of pro and college players at Braemar Arena, and he has done Warrior Sculpt — which combines yoga with strength and cardiovascular training — in addition to regular workouts with Gophers strength coach Cal Dietz.
All that pushed Lettieri to the top of his game. With 18 goals, he has equaled the number he scored in his first three seasons, and he got his first career hat trick in January against Michigan.
“This game is becoming more and more skilled each year, so you can’t just do the same old things,” Lettieri said. “You’ve always got to push yourself. Having a little bit of success this year makes me feel good, because of the work I’ve put in every year.”
Gophers coach Don Lucia praised Lettieri for his unflagging dedication and well-rounded skill set. He can play wing or center, is a staple on special teams and excels in the faceoff circle.
“Vinni would play 30 minutes [a game] if I let him,” Lucia said. “And he’s in phenomenal shape, so he could probably do it. He’s had a tremendous senior year. Every year, he’s been better.”
Kloos said Lettieri’s fashion sense “brings a little spice” to the Gophers. By the time he leaves the U, Lettieri hopes to bring them an NCAA title and sign a pro contract.
He’s already following the adage of dressing for the job he wants. And if he gets it, he already knows how he’d like to spend some of those future earnings.
“That blue pinstripe suit from Conor McGregor’s Instagram,” Lettieri said, swooning over the MMA fighter’s $10,000 bespoke beauty. “It’s unbelievable.”