Myers: Once again Kyle Rau let's his on-ice performance do the talking
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Unlike some of his more media-friendly teammates, Minnesota Gophers sophomore forward Kyle Rau has never seemed totally at ease talking to reporters after games. He has a shy smile, and answers questions without much in the way of elaboration.
Those who know him from ice level joke that by the time the game is over, Rau is tired from talking for 60 minutes. Sometimes longer, as was the case on Saturday in the Gophers' potentially costly 2-2 an overtime tie with Minnesota Duluth.
"He likes to give guys a little lip jab on the ice. It's good that he gets in guys heads," top-line center Nick Bjugstad said. "A lot teams don't like him, and that's a good thing. He's a mean guy on the ice, which is good. He's really nice off the ice."
Rau's older brother, Chad, was a high school standout in Eden Prairie, a WCHA all-star at Colorado College, and has even played a few games for the Wild. Aside from hockey talent, the Rau brothers are seemingly polar opposites, as Chad irritates opponents with his skills, while Kyle's work as a provocateur involves a volatile combination of ways to get under an opponent's skin.
"I love it," a tight-lipped Rau said after the game, not bothering to expand on his role as pain in the butt for the opponents. With linemates Bjugstad and Zach Budish moving pucks and drawing attention, Rau goes to the top of the crease, swatting at rebounds and causing havoc. He and Bjugstad had more than one-fourth of the Gophers' 40 shots on goal Saturday. One night earlier he had scored the game-winner and had been named the No. 1 one star of the game.
"He's always buzzing around," Bulldogs goalie Matt McNeely said, adding that Rau is the kind of player that makes you concentrate harder on controlling rebounds, knowing he's seemingly always there to pounce on a loose puck.
A five-minute stretch in the second period of the on Saturday typified what Rau brings to the ice. On one shift he swatted a puck out of the air and past McNeely, appearing to give the Gophers a 2-0 lead, before the play was disallowed when it was ruled that Rau had played the puck with a high stick.
On the next shift he crashed the Bulldogs net again, eventually throwing Minnesota Duluth defenseman Derik Johnson into the net, where he landed on McNeely, drawing a whistle. One shift later, he swatted at a loose puck at center ice, knocking the stick from the hands of Bulldogs forward Jake Hendrickson and was given a slashing penalty. The Gophers killed it.
"Kyle's going to go to the dirty areas. That's just his style," said Gophers coach Don Lucia, who admits having to calm Rau down occasionally. "He's not going to back down. Tonight you saw that. He took a pounding, but that's not going to prevent him from going to those areas."
It would be easy for Kyle - not a physical titan at 5-10, 175 - to be the forgotten man on the Gophers top line alongside hulks like Bjugstad and Budish. It would be just as easy for Kyle to be the forgotten Rau brother alongside Chad and his NHL-level skills.
But Kyle is the kid who took what he had, at least on the high school level, and made stardom out of it, winning the Mr. Hockey Award as a senior in Eden Prairie, one day after he scored the sprawling overtime winning in the state title game.
Rau ducked out of the locker room stealthily through a side door on Saturday, clearly unsatisfied with coming close but falling short of a weekend sweep, and losing a crucial point as the Gophers try to catch St. Cloud State with only four games remaining. His answers were short and deliberately non-explanatory.
As he has done most of his hockey career, Rau had already done most of his talking on the ice with his skates, his stick, and his mouth.