Knowing Kyle Rau as he does, Gophers men's hockey coach Don Lucia said earlier this week that he might need to occasionally put the clamps on his small-but-mighty freshman. As a 5-8 forward getting his first taste of college hockey, Rau shows fearlessness -- particularly around the net -- that led Lucia to think he might have to remind Rau that he is a rookie in a game with a steep learning curve.
But not Friday night. Rau began his Gophers career by scoring the season's first goal, and fellow freshmen Seth Ambroz and Sam Warning also scored in their college debuts to fuel a 9-0 rout of Sacred Heart at Mariucci Arena. The 19th-ranked Gophers, who dominated play for long stretches of the game, augmented their four second-period goals with four more in the third and got a solid performance from goaltender Kent Patterson, who made 20 saves for his first career shutout.
Rau followed up his unforgettable goal from last spring -- the one that won the state Class 2A title for Eden Prairie in three overtimes -- with a memorable college debut. He stuffed the puck past Sacred Heart goalie Steven Legatto only 56 seconds into the game and assisted on Erik Haula's goal at 16:27 of the second period. Rau got plenty of ice time, too, as part of the top line, the first power-play unit and the penalty kill.
Ambroz scored the final two goals, but Warning really endeared himself to a crowd announced at 8,458. His goal at 18:37 of the second period made it 5-0 -- giving the fans the free frozen custard that comes with five Gophers goals. The Gophers outshot Sacred Heart 47-20 and also got two goals from Nick Bjugstad, plus one each from Jake Hansen and Tom Serratore.
None of the freshmen are allowed to speak with the media for the first month of the season. Their play, along with their teammates and coaches, did the talking for them.
"They're all very good," said Zach Budish, who played with Rau on the top line centered by Bjugstad. "Kyle scored a minute into the game, and it was good for him to get that first goal off his back. He has a lot of energy, he moves the puck well and he's kind of feisty. And he finds a way to score."
Lucia liked what he witnessed. "It's no big surprise that Kyle scored the first goal of the season," Lucia said. "And where did he get it? Right at the blue paint. Same thing with Seth Ambroz, who has a big, strong body and knows where to go to score goals.
"We did a lot of good things. We had some erratic play at times; Kent had to make some saves at critical points of the game, especially early in the second period."
The roughest patch for the Gophers came late in the first period, when three penalties put some pressure on Patterson and interrupted their offense.
After making some nice stops early, Legatto was worn down by a steady Gophers attack. The Pioneers were outshot 31-11 over the final two periods, and they were done in by three Gophers goals in a span of 4:13 late in the second.