With such a paltry tribute greeting his first career hat trick, Kyle Rau had to laugh. The Gophers sophomore had scored three goals that were as pretty as they were important in Saturday's 7-1 romp over Alaska Anchorage, but only one cap was thrown onto the Mariucci Arena ice.
Rau was more concerned anyway with what he gave rather than what he got. His three goals lifted the Gophers (16-3-3, 8-3-3) to their first WCHA sweep this season. It extended their winning streak to five games and their unbeaten string to eight. He even treated 9,607 fans -- the announced attendance -- to ice cream, as his final goal was the one that earned the free scoops that come when the Gophers score at least five goals.
The sweep -- coming in the Gophers' seventh league series -- lifted them from sixth place in the conference standings to a tie for second at the halfway mark. Saturday's performance also reminded them what they can do when they fully commit. After a lackluster effort Friday in a 4-3 victory, the Gophers dominated the Seawolves (3-13-4, 1-12-3) from start to finish.
Defenseman Nate Schmidt had four assists and Nate Condon scored twice as the Gophers broke open a 2-1 game with five consecutive goals. Seth Ambroz and Rau staked the Gophers to a 2-0 lead in the first period before the Seawolves got a goal from Matt Bailey to open the second. Other than that brief highlight, last-place Alaska Anchorage was simply overpowered, as the Gophers outshot the Seawolves 31-13.
"It was a fun game for us,'' said Rau, who is on a six-game point streak. "We wanted to come out of the locker room and get going right away. It was big for us to start climbing in the league [standings] and get where we want to be.''
In the two victories, Rau contributed four goals and one assist, Schmidt six assists. Gophers coach Don Lucia was pleased with his team's overall play, particularly after Friday's sluggish outing.
"We had the puck a lot more tonight, and we made plays when we had it,'' Lucia said. "We were more in sync, hunting pucks better and moving it better."
The Gophers took charge right from the beginning of Saturday's rematch. They spent much of the first period on the attack, controlling the puck for long stretches and making things easy for goalie Adam Wilcox.
The Seawolves didn't get a shot on goal until 8:12 into the game. They didn't get their second until 16:07, by which time the Gophers had scored once at even strength and once on the power play. Midway through the period, Jake Parenteau blocked the puck as the Seawolves tried to get it out of their zone; he couldn't get a handle on it, but Seth Ambroz grabbed it in the slot and whipped a shot past goalie Rob Gunderson at 9:55.
Rau deflected in a Schmidt shot from the point at 12 minutes, only 30 seconds into the Gophers' first power play. After the Seawolves pulled within 2-1 on Bailey's goal at 36 seconds of the second period, the Gophers answered with pretty goals by Zach Budish -- set up by a perfect Sam Warning pass for a wide-open shot -- and Rau, who took another fine Warning feed and danced across the slot for a deft backhander through Gunderson's pads with 44 seconds left in the period.
Rau completed the hat trick at 5:34 of the third, stealing the puck from Bailey and gliding to the net to shoot over Gunderson for a 5-1 lead. The Gophers continued to gain steam, getting high-percentage chances.