Game nights extend well into the early morning for Kyle Rau. The Gophers hockey co-captain lies in bed for hours, until his bruised body finally allows him to rest.
Most nights, that’s not until 3 a.m.
Although Rau is only 5-8 and 173 pounds, he’s become something of an enforcer during his three years with the Gophers. He’s the type of player who personifies the scouting report, “A small guy who plays big.”
Rau takes pride in disrupting the game of bigger opponents. He isn’t afraid to be physical, and his mouth is always moving, shouting at players or debating with a referee. Even if his checking hurts him more than the player he’s hitting, Rau will continue to deliver the blows.
“He’s really edgy, and I think that’s why he’s so effective,” teammate Justin Holl said. “He’s a really good agitator. I’m pretty sure every other player and team in the country hates him. … But he’s a warrior.”
Rau’s leadership has been on display over the past month. He scored seven goals in nine games, one of which clinched the Gophers’ Big Ten regular-season championship. He added two in the NCAA West Regional at Xcel Energy Center, and leads the team with 37 points (14 goals, 23 assists) entering this week’s Frozen Four in Philadelphia.
“On the ice, sometimes I get a little more intense than I probably should, but I think that’s what makes me a good player,” Rau said. “In person, I’m different, that’s for sure.”
Most of Rau’s goals are scored in what his teammates refer to as “his office,” the immediate area around the net where he is surrounded by larger defensemen.
If Rau had an actual office, it would reflect his laid-back, off-ice personality. There might be pictures of his hockey family, his dog, friends from Eden Prairie, goal celebrations featuring him “rolling dice” and a lady friend, teammate Travis Boyd said.
Those pictures would portray a version of someone very different from the one Rau fans have come to know as their favorite pest.
Rau, who led Eden Prairie to the 2011 Minnesota Class 2A state hockey championship by scoring in overtime to beat Duluth East, also probably would spend most of his office time studying. He’s a marketing major in the Carlson School of Management, maintains a 3.5 grade-point average and won the Gophers’ outstanding student-athlete award this season.
“Rau is a very quiet guy away from the rink and keeps to himself,” senior co-captain Nate Condon said. “Once he’s on the ice, he’s flamboyant, he’s yelling, he’s hollering. I don’t think he’s made friends with the refs all season.
“He’s a real character. It’s not acting. It’s just how he is. You couldn’t tell him to be any other way. If you told him to be quiet on the ice, he couldn’t do it because it’d take away from everything else he does. … One thing goes with another.”
Rau was Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey as a senior, and also won a state title as a sophomore at Eden Prairie. Though his small stature might have contributed to Rau being rated 177th among North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service, he was selected in the third round, 91st overall, by the Florida Panthers in the 2011 NHL draft. Rau’s older brother, Chad, is another undersized forward who played nine games for the Wild two seasons ago but was sent to San Jose’s minor league affiliate in a trade last month.
Kyle was an immediate success as a Gophers freshman. He scored on his first college shift and ended the season with 18 goals and 43 points, second on a team that lost in the Frozen Four semifinals. The Gophers made the NCAA tournament again last season, when Rau had 15 goals and 40 points. With rival North Dakota up next in the national semifinals, Rau expects to continue his success in a big way.
“It’s a good thing to be known as a guy that when something needs to get done, people look to you to do it,” Rau said. “It’s pretty special to be known for that. … Instead of relying on someone else to be the leader, I’d rather rely on myself.”
Extra media attention as the No. 1-ranked Gophers progress in the playoffs shows Rau to be guarded. He gives short answers to questions, and appears generally disinterested.
His teammates agree that doesn’t exactly paint Rau as an intellectual but say he tends to be brief with those he doesn’t know well. Boyd, a junior, said he barely could get anything out of Rau during their freshman season, although he eventually saw the ball of energy Rau can be away from the rink.
Freshman winger Hudson Fasching heard plenty about Rau’s surly on-ice reputation before joining the Gophers. He couldn’t help but be a little intimidated when placed on Rau’s line, yet he’s grown to be impressed with Rau’s relentlessness.
“The fact that he’s [produced] all year, it’s easy to trust him and that he can do it in the playoffs,” Fasching said. “He’s a big-time player ready for the big games. … He does what he wants to do and he knows what he wants. He’s very decisive. I think that helps him on the ice. He makes his decision and commits to it and is not second-guessing himself ever.”
NCAA Frozen Four
Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia
Thursday • ESPN2
• Boston College (28-7-4) vs. Union (N.Y.) (30-6-4), 4 p.m.
• North Dakota (25-13-3) vs. Gophers (27-6-6), 7:30 p.m.
Saturday • ESPN
Championship, 6:30 p.m.