Senior forward Vinni Lettieri's hat trick led the Gophers to a 4-2 victory over Michigan on Saturday night at Mariucci Arena. His second goal, on a penalty shot, gave the Gophers a 3-0 lead in the first minute of the third period.
The victory was the Gophers' sixth in a row and gave them a series sweep — they won 5-2 on Friday — and kept them tied for first place in the Big Ten with Penn State.
After the ninth-ranked Gophers (13-5-2, 5-1 Big Ten) scored in the last seconds of the first and third periods, Lettieri made it 3-0 with his second goal of the game at 39 seconds of the third period on a penalty shot, awarded to him after he was taken down on a breakaway. He beat Michigan goalie Hayden Lavigne with a wrist shot from just above the hash marks.
"That's not easy to do. … The pressure is on the shooter," Gophers coach Don Lucia said.
But the Gophers had the right player taking shot. Lettieri is on the hottest streak of his career, with at least one point in the past 10 games. And his 11 goals are a career high for one season.
"He's having a really nice senior year," Lucia said. "He works really hard, and it's nice to see him rewarded."
Gophers goalie Eric Schierhorn also has played well of late and had a shutout until Steven Merl scored for the Wolverines (8-11-1, 1-5) at 8:43 of the third. Evan Allen closed the gap further, scoring at 14:22 to make it 3-2.
The closeness of the game ensured Wolverines coach Red Berenson would pull his goalie near the end and he did. That led to Lettieri getting a third goal, into an empty net, with 23 seconds to play.
Lettieri scored his first goal with three seconds left in the opening period on a power play. He fired a wrist shot from the top of the right circle that got past a retreating defenseman and beat Lavigne low. It stayed 1-0 until just 43 seconds were left in the second period when defenseman Ryan Collins scored from the right point through traffic.
Then, as the third period started, it was Lettieri's turn to shine again. Even with his team shorthanded, he got a breakaway, drew a penalty and made his penalty shot.