March 16, 2014
MINNEAPOLIS (GopherSports.com) - Kyle Rau's reputation as a big-time player in big-time moments took another jump over the weekend as the junior captain clinched the inaugural Big Ten regular-season championship for the No. 1 Gophers with the overtime winner against Michigan.
Rau, who leads Minnesota and ranks third in the Big Ten with 33 points this season, knocked home a loose puck 2:44 into overtime on Friday night as Minnesota won 3-2 in the added session.
For some, it would have been the goal of a lifetime. For Rau, it was business as usual.
Perhaps no player in recent memory has been as instrumental to a team's offensive success as Rau. The Gophers are 62-9-6 all-time when the junior tallies a point while 18 of the forward's 44 career goals have been game winners - the most among active Gophers.
"Kyle's been a big-time player his whole life. He can simply will his team to win," Gophers assistant coach and former captain Grant Potulny said. "He's a great competitor, and he brings it every single night. I'd take him on my team any day."
Friday's win for Minnesota was its first overtime victory in seven tries this season (6-0-1). The last Gopher to win a game in overtime? That would also be Rau - the forward scored the deciding goal in a 2-1 Gophers' victory over Bemidji State in the 2013 WCHA First Round Playoff Series. Minnesota's active leading scorer, Rau has 116 points (44 goals, 72 assists) in 116 career games.
While his reputation has been solidified in college, his legend began as prep athlete at Eden Prairie. Minnesota's Mr. Hockey Award winner and First-Team All-State honoree in 2011, Rau scored the game-winning goal for the Eagles in the 2011 Class AA state championship - a 3-2 triple overtime victory over Duluth East.
"Scoring that one meant a lot to me personally," Rau said. "My brother (twin brother, Curt) had the first shot on goal, and I just dove for it and got lucky. That was the last game we played together. It's a great memory for us."
Before that, he scored the game-winning goal in double overtime as Eden Prairie topped Wayzata to clinch the 2011 Section 6AA championship. Rau, who also led Eden Prairie to a state title in 2009 along with former Gopher and current Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy, totaled 220 points (110 goals, 110 assists) in his three years with the Eagles.
But Rau's personal favorite goal?
"Probably my goal against North Dakota as a freshman...that was a big one."
Just another example of stepping up big for his team. Rau scored the game winner with 45 seconds left in regulation in a 3-2 win over North Dakota at Mariucci Arena as Minnesota went on to win the first of three-straight conference titles during Rau's three years with the program. The Gophers also returned to the Frozen Four at the end of the 2011-12 campaign.
The top-ranked Gophers head into the inaugural Big Ten tournament at Xcel Energy Center as the top seed and will face the winner of four-seed Ohio State and five-seed Michigan State on Friday at 7 p.m. The conference title will be decided on Saturday at 7 p.m. All five games of the Big Ten tournament will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network and BTN2Go.com.
From there, the Gophers will host the 2014 NCAA West Regional at Xcel Energy Center on March 29-30 with a chance to advance to the program's 21st Frozen Four on the line.
So while the Big Ten regular-season conference title is a great reward for a hard-fought season, Rau still has plenty of goals left in mind for this season.
"When you come here, you don't come to win conference championships. You come for something else."
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