Family history helps pave path for Gophers’ Lettieri

Minnesota sophomore forward Vinni Lettieri is "a guy that we need to take a step," according to Gophers coach Don Lucia.

Jim Rosvold

MINNEAPOLIS — Vinni Lettieri doesn’t share the same last name as his famous grandfather, but the two do share a love for the sport of hockey.

Lettieri is a sophomore forward on the Gophers men’s hockey team. His grandpa, Lou Nanne, once played for Minnesota, too, from 1961-63. Nanne also went on to enjoy an 11-year NHL career as a player with the Minnesota North Stars before eventually taking over as the team’s coach and general manager.

It wasn’t until he was about five or six, Lettieri said, that he realized just how influential his grandpa has been in the Minnesota hockey community.

"I started learning more information about my family. You can’t really adapt to a lot of information when you’re so young," Lettieri said. "As you’re growing up and you start to play the sport that you love and you start to learn more background information about your family, that’s definitely cool to have behind me and to try to become someone like that when I get older."

Lou Nanne, 73, isn’t the only other athlete in Lettieri’s family — far from it. His uncle, Marty, also played for the Gophers from 1986-88 before an injury cut his professional career short. Lettieri’s cousins and Marty’s sons, Tyler and Louie Nanne, also play hockey (as if they had a choice, given their family tree). Tyler Nanne committed to play at Ohio State next season, while Louie, a draft pick of the Wild, is currently a freshman on RPI’s hockey team after decommitting from Minnesota.

And then there’s Lettieri’s father, Tino, who was also professional athlete — although not a hockey player. Tino Lettieri spent 11 years as a pro soccer goalie during a career that included four years with the Minnesota Kicks of the North American Soccer League.

Vinni Lettieri dabbled in soccer and hockey growing up in Excelsior, Minn., and played both sports into his high school years. But when he realized hockey was his future, he hung up his soccer cleats.

Vinni Lettieri scored two goals in Minnesota’s 6-2 win over Boston College last week.

"My dad was all for it — not for me quitting, but he was all for me playing hockey because he was a hockey goalie, too," Lettieri said. "That helped me a lot. He was supporting me to whatever I was doing."

As a freshman with the Gophers last year, Lettieri played in 37 games but didn’t find himself on the stat sheet much. He tallied two goals — including a game-winner — and six assists. In the early going of his sophomore campaign, the goals were hard to come by for Lettieri. Through his first nine games, Lettieri didn’t have a single point.

That all changed last Friday against Boston College, when Lettieri scored not once but twice as Minnesota topped the Eagles 6-2 in Boston. After the Gophers had gone winless in their last three games, that win was the spark they needed.

Minnesota hopes the two goals can be a spark for Lettieri, too.

"Vinni’s a guy that we need to take a step," said Gophers coach Don Lucia. "You could see it coming in practice that he looked better. You’d see him score some goals. It was great to see him pick up a couple goals on Friday night and against a good quality team, too. I think as a player it makes you feel even better."

Despite his family’s history at the University of Minnesota, Lettieri said it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that he’d end up a Gopher. After all, his cousins wound up paving their own paths and different schools instead of following their father and grandfather.

Lettieri ultimately did chose Minnesota, and his grandpa had some influence on the choice — although it didn’t have as much to do with hockey as you might think.

"The deciding factor, I think, education is something to always look forward to. It’s the No. 1 thing my grandpa helped me look at, too, not just because he went here," Lettieri said. "What’s after hockey, you’ve still got years to go. Even my grandpa played a long career and he had so long to go after that. That’s when you need your education. Minnesota’s a great school for that. I thought that this is a great program for hockey and education. Coming here, you’re getting the best of both worlds."

Photo Gallery

Through the ups and downs of his hockey career, Lettieri has always had his grandpa to fall back on for advice. On top of his NHL career, Nanne was the captain of the United States team in the 1968 Olympics, and is now helping spearhead a giant fundraising campaign at his alma mater to raise money for new athletic facilities.

Still very much active on campus, Nanne often hangs around Mariucci Arena to watch Vinni and the Gophers. Just like any other grandpa, he’s not afraid to offer some advice to his grandkids.

"He’s always just told me to keep working my hardest on and off the ice," Lettieri said. "I’ve always got to be the first one on, last one off. He’s always been to my games, so he’s helped me with specific parts of my game. . . . At the end of the day, if I keep working hard, he knows I’ll get there some day."

Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter