Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 10/15/11
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DULUTH -- When Kyle Rau was a youngster his family bought season tickets to Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey games, to make sure he could attend at least one game per weekend. Rau grew up watching players like Thomas Vanek, Paul Martin and Grant Potulny not only wear the maroon and gold but also hoist the gold as they won consecutive National Championships in 2002 and 2003. "It's always been my dream to play for the Gophers," Rau noted. "I grew up idolizing those players and now I am one of them ... What a thrill!" Rau is playing his second weekend of college hockey now, but he is making the transition form high school hockey look far easier than it should. In his first game as a Gopher, Rau scored on his very first shift against Sacred Heart. "That was an awesome feeling," he said. "You always worry about making an impact, so to get that done on my first shift was quite a relief." Gopher's assistant coach Mike Guentzel was a big part of those back-to-back NCAA titles, and he has seen plenty of talented hockey players at the college level. Guentzel believes there is something special about the little guy from Eden Prairie. "Kyle plays much bigger than his actual size," said the assistant coach. "If you watch him out there you will notice that he knows how to take a hit and keep his feet moving. I love his work ethic and attitude. "This kid is going to be a special player for us here at Minnesota." After a solid opening weekend against Sacred Heart, where Rau had one goal and one assist in a sweep over the Pioneers, the youngster was ready for his first road test in the WCHA. This weekend the Gophers traveled to face defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth. Rau once again rose to the occasion, scoring two power-play goals to help Minnesota pull off a 5-4 upset in overtime Friday. Head coach Don Lucia was impressed with his young team's poise. "This was a great win for our team in a very tough environment" the coach noted. "Our special teams were terrific ... and it's great to see freshman like Kyle Rau have such a big game first time on the road." It should be no surprise that Rau is having early success. He has been doing big things for a long time. Last year, as a senior at Eden Prairie, the little forward with the big heart carried his team to a state championship. In the section finals against a very talented Wayzata team featuring Don Lucia's, son Mario, Rau scored the winning goal in double overtime at Mariucci Arena. After leading his team to the tourney he once again made the winning play to beat Duluth East for the title. In the third overtime session Rau fired a long shot in on goal, the rebound kicked out to the weak side, and Rau swatted the puck home. His coach at Eden Prairie was Lee Smith, who continues to be amazed by what Rau can do in the ice. "There is nothing Kyle Rau can't do out there," said Smith. "Part of it certainly is his talent, but he also has a huge heart and works hard every single day to achieve that success." Last summer Rau was selected in the third round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Florida Panthers. Rau knows he has plenty to prove to the naysayers, because of his 5-foot-8, 164-pound frame. "It was really cool to be drafted and to have the draft in Minnesota, that's for sure," said Rau. "I am excited to be a Gopher right now and I will need to prove myself here before I start looking at the next step. "I believe if you work hard and do your best the other stuff will take care of itself." So far so good for Kyle Rau and the Minnesota Gophers.
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