A quick glance at Vinni Lettieri’s family tree is enough to know he could make sports history.
His grandfather, hockey legend Lou Nanne, played for the Gophers in the 1960s. He competed at the 1968 Olympics and got involved in the NHL’s Minnesota North Stars as a player, general manager and coach.
Tino Lettieri, Vinni’s father, was a professional Canadian soccer player with the Minnesota Kicks, Vancouver Whitecaps and others. He also competed at the Olympics in 1976 and 1984 and at the World Cup in 1986.
Vinni Lettieri’s uncle, Marty Nanne, also played for the Gophers, and his cousins, Louie and Tyler Nanne, have committed to playing college hockey at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Ohio State, respectively.
It’s a lot to live up to, but Lettieri has never been one to let his family pedigree weigh on him.
“The more pressure, the better he handles it,” Tino Lettieri said.
Before his junior year of high school, Vinni Lettieri decided to focus on just one sport. While he had been playing both soccer and hockey practically since he learned to walk and skate, the choice was clear.
“He told me, he says, ‘Papa, I don’t want to play soccer anymore,’” Tino Lettieri said. “That’s when the ball dropped in my heart. The truth is coming out.”
Lettieri said he wouldn’t have minded seeing his son follow in his footsteps.
“I wanted him to play soccer, but at the end of the day … I don’t want him to do what I did if he doesn’t like it,” Tino Lettieri said. “I didn’t see the same love and passion [for soccer] even though he was really, really good at it.”
So he made the choice easier on his son.
“I said, ‘Vinni, you choose what you like, not what I like, and don’t do this for me,’” he said. “And I remember him saying … ‘You won’t be mad?’”
Not at all.
In fact, Tino Lettieri grew up in Montreal and had Division I scholarship offers as a hockey goaltender, but he chose a career inside a larger net instead.
But even Vinni Lettieri’s grandfather was surprised Vinni gave up soccer.
“He was a tremendous soccer player, not just a good soccer player,” Lou Nanne said. “He’s a heck of an athlete, but he loves hockey the most, and he just wanted to focus on hockey.”
Vinni Lettieri said he loved the sport from the very beginning, and his family noticed.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who loves the game more than him,” Tyler Nanne said.
And that love of the game helped Lettieri to follow his grandfather and uncle into the Gophers men’s hockey team as a freshman forward this year.
As kids, all three “die-hard” hockey cousins in the family dreamt of attending the University together. Louie Nanne even committed before instead deciding on RPI.
“We both decided to just continue the Nanne family legacy at Minnesota,” Louie Nanne said. “But as time passed, I just realized that I had to kind of fill my own shoes.”
Tyler Nanne said he understood his brother’s desire to escape their grandfather’s shadow.
“It can be a lot of pressure, just having a last name and having him as a grandfather; you have kids yelling at you and tripping you daily,” he said.
Perhaps that’s where Lettieri had the advantage.
“I think one of the things that helps him is his last name is not Nanne,” Gophers head coach Don Lucia said. “You know, a lot of people probably don’t know that his father was a tremendous goaltender.”
Still, Lou Nanne said he was thrilled when his grandson wanted to play for his former team.
“I wanted to see my grandkids go there,” he said. “And I thought at one time it was a possibility all three would go there. But it didn’t work out, so I’m happy at least one went there.”
Tyler Nanne said his cousin doesn’t seek fame by using his grandfather’s name but still represents his heritage.
“Though his last name is Lettieri, I think he still takes great pride,” he said. “And he’s still part of the family.”
Lettieri excelled at Minnetonka High School, with the USHL’s Lincoln Stars and as part of youth U.S. national teams, but he said his first year with the Gophers hasn’t been up to his standards. He’s played in 22 games, scoring one goal with two assists.
“Not satisfied with what I’ve done yet,” he said. “But there’s a lot more to come.”
Gophers coaches and teammates alike all used one adjective to describe Lettieri: hard-working.
“He’s one of those kids that is on the ice late. Sometimes you kind of have to chase him off the rink to get up and get our meal upstairs,” Lucia said.
Hudson Fasching, a fellow freshman, has known Lettieri since they played on the same youth hockey line together with another freshman forward, Taylor Cammarata. He said Lettieri never lets up on the ice.
“He’s going into battles, and he’s trying to block shots and just doing everything he possibly can,” Fasching said. “It’s like he’s going 100 miles an hour.”
Lettieri is a better skater than he ever was, his grandfather said, but that skill isn’t the only thing that will help him succeed.
“He’s really driven,” Lou Nanne said. “He wants to be a professional player. He’s willing to pay any price to get there.”
While Lettieri may not have followed his father onto the soccer pitch, he did take after him in another aspect — fashion.
The freshman quickly made a name for himself among his teammates for his style.
It all started with Tino Lettieri, who told his son how, as an athlete, people would always be watching him and kids would look up to him. So he had an obligation to dress the part.
And being of Italian descent, looking his best is just as much in his blood as hockey and soccer.
“Our culture of dressing has always been part of our lifestyle,” Tino Lettieri said. “I rarely wear jeans. I don’t think I’ve worn jeans since I came to the States.”
His father’s favorite color is black and while Vinni Lettieri’s favorite suit may be a new blue one, he said he still admires his father’s sense of fashion.
“He still rocks the flowback, and he wears a fedora to the games like a true Italian,” Lettieri said. “And so he loves me to have some style like that, too.”
While his father has overheard people after games remarking, “Look at Vinni’s suit. It’s beautiful. It’s GQ,” or “Vinni, when you buy a pair of shoes like those, buy two of them so I can wear a pair,” his teammates aren’t always so complimentary.
“He definitely gets some flak for it,” senior goaltender Michael Shibrowski said. “But he shows up every day, keeps doing it.”
Fasching said he would never dare to pull off some of the clothes his teammate does.
“Every game he walks in, and he’s got some sort of suit on, and everybody walks in and is like, ‘What is going on here?’” he said. “It’s funny. It’s entertaining. We joke around with him a lot.”
While his teammates may rib Lettieri to buy extra pairs of dress shoes, that’s exactly what Lettieri did almost a year ago to the day when playing in the USHL.
A friend didn’t have much money to spend on clothes and had to wear running shoes with holes in them during the
“He went out with his money and bought this kid his own shoes for his birthday,” Tino Lettieri said. “It just touched our hearts knowing that this is the type of kid he is.”
Lettieri may be cast in the shade of a rather large family tree, but he is certainly making a name for himself.