Kyle On the Spot
Gophers' Rau Shows Scorer's Knack Again
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
MINNEAPOLIS When Minnesota senior Nick Larson tied the game with 6 minutes and change remaining Saturday night against North Dakota, the focus of many of the 10,000-plus fans in attendance at Mariucci Arena shifted to Golden Gopher freshman Kyle Rau.
There are many players bigger than Rau on the ice, like his linemate Nick Bjugstad. There are others that garner more off-ice attention, like controversial Sioux freshman Rocco Grimaldi. But few can claim to be as timely as the newcomer fresh from Eden Prairie, Minn.
Held off the scoresheet all night — a feat that hasn't been common so far this young season — Rau found himself in the right place at exactly the right moment. He pounded home a rebound from his comfort zone in front of the net, propelling the Gophers to a series sweep of their rivals from North Dakota, keeping Minnesota undefeated in WCHA play through six games, and sending Mariucci into a frenzy.
Of course, scoring timely goals is nothing new to the diminutive left winger. In March, he scored the game-winning goal in double overtime of the state championship game. He scored a goal on his first collegiate shift. He's scored plenty of goals in the handful of championships his teams have won over the course of the last decade going all the way back to bantams.
"Great players make great plays at critical moments of games," said Gophers coach Don Lucia. "That's his history. He's done that all his life."
But it's not just his goal scoring that has captured the attention of Gopher fans; it's his relentless effort on both ends of the rink. It's his acceptance that at just 5 feet, 8 inches tall, he's going to take a beating. It's his willingness to block a shot or make a great pass.
For his part, Rau is extremely humble. Reserved and quiet, Rau seems almost surprised by the attention he gets — taking zero credit and instead deflecting it all to teammates and coaches.
"Definitely, my linemates," Rau said. "Playing with Bjugstad and (sophomore Zach) Budish, they're phenomenal players. And the coaches, they've put in a spot to be successful by putting my on that line.
"Putting me out there with a minute left in the game … that goal [Saturday], Budish did all the work, I was just fortunate the puck came to me and I was able to finish it off for him."
So is it luck?
"You just gotta keep working hard," Rau said. "I didn't get anything until there was 45 seconds left in the game."
Gophers captain Taylor Matson has been quite impressed with Rau's emergence this season.
"Coming straight out of high school, he's already got eight goals … all from the same spot," Matson said. "I just hope he keeps doing it."
Like his brother Chad, who starred at Colorado College from 2005-09, Rau is already is one of the most dangerous players in the WCHA — and the nation, yet he insists there's still plenty of room for improvement.
"Good players do well on offense and on defense," Rau said. "I still need to get better on both ends. I'm working on it."