Gophers Rally in Third for Sweep

Rau’s Last Minute Goal Caps Third Period Rally

Kyle Rau with the puck on his stick, puts it in the back of the net for the game winner with 45 seconds remaining in the game.
Photo by: Craig Cotner
What did the early season Gopher rookie of the year have to think about his first series against North Dakota?

“It was a blast” said Kyle Rau afterwards, enthusiastically, with a big smile.

Another game, another huge goal for the true freshman, as he pots his 8th of the season with under a minute to go as the Gophers rally in the third period for a 3 – 2 win, staying undefeated in conference play, and sweeping North Dakota at home (in a non-playoff series) for the first time since 1996.

The Gophers weren’t as tight as they were Friday night to begin the game, and they took control early. A good fore-check by the top line led to the first goal of the night. Rau dumped the puck in deep and got it back to Holl at the point. His shot was tipped by Budish but saved by Aaron Dell. Bjugstad pounced on the rebound and flipped it past Dell for his 8th goal of the season.

The Gopher early season march to the penalty box cost them the lead a couple of minutes later; Brock Nelson – off the faceoff – soaked Kent Patterson with a nice wrist shot that popped the net above Patterson’s left shoulder.

North Dakota had a bit of the play going into the second period. The Gophers, while not lacking for effort, just didn’t have the same level of execution and were scrapping for just about anything. They got it with a fortuitous 5 on 3 situation for just under a minute.

But Jake Hansen took a selfish penalty in the crease area, and as things got back to 4 on 4, Rocco Grimaldi made a nifty play, cutting across the offensive zone at the blue line and putting a wrist shot over Patterson’s glove for a 2 – 1 North Dakota lead going into intermission.

After looking at the scoreboard and seeing 11 shots for North Dakota after two periods, one couldn’t help but wonder if the young Gopher team would squeeze a bit in frustration as they had a hard time getting good chances even though they had 31 shots themselves.

Kyle Rau celebrates his game winning goal with a little roll of the dice!
Photo by: Craig Cotner
It seemed so at first; the third period was starting to lack a bit of energy as the minutes ticked off. The game was playing into North Dakota’s hand quite a bit as they were locking it up in the neutral zone, and if the Gophers did get possession in the offensive zone, it was an immediate five man wall in front of Dell.

But they weren’t going out like that.

“We created some good chances, and just told ourselves, to keep going to the net” said Nick Larson, post-game, when asked about the teams’ frustration level.

And that summarized his tying goal perfectly. After Travis Boyd made a great play to keep the puck in the zone, it eventually worked its way into the corner. Boyd put it in the slot; Nick pounced on a puck, and seemingly catching Dell by surprise, got it to trickle underneath him and just over the goal line to tie the game with just over six minutes left.

And just like that – the game went from methodical and frustrating to up and down action. Kent Patterson made an unbelievable save off of a North Dakota three-on-two rush, robbing Brock Nelson of his second goal of the game.

Then it came down to – who else? – Rau at the end.

Nick Bjugstad’s shot hit traffic, bounced to Budish in front, who knocked it down with his hand and shot it; Dell made the save but it bounced right to Rau and he slammed it home with 45 ticks left.

“[Dell] was the WCHA goalie of the year” said Rau after the game, acknowledging Dell’s weekend performance. “We just [said] stick to it, eventually it’ll go your way.”

Ultimately after all the bounces and shots and penalties and chances – the Gopher’s 4th line was clearly their best tonight, as Coach Lucia seemed to think also. “I thought a real key for us not only tonight, but the weekend, was the play of Boyd’s line” he said. It’s a sign of a deep team and they were really the reason the Gophers were able to win tonight.

Lucia was sheepish a bit on how he planned to get the team to re-focus on another huge task next week (at Wisconsin). “It’s a week to week league” he said. “We’ll have some fun tonight” he added.

So…next weekend brings rival #1B, Bucky. Just like this weekend, Friday is live on FSN, Saturday will be on the Big Ten Network (at 7 instead of 7:30). Should be a great weekend of – hopefully – beating Bucky around in two sports.

Photo by: Craig Cotner

by: Jeff Oftos on Saturday, November 5th, 2011 6 comments! | Post your comment
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