A feel-good weekend as Gophers come back to sweep Sioux

  • Article by: ROMAN AUGUSTOVIZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 6, 2011 - 11:01 PM

Kyle Rau scored the winner with 46 seconds to go, giving the Gophers their first regular-season home sweep of UND since 1996.

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Gophers players celebrated their come-from-behind 3-2 victory over North Dakota at Mariucci Arena on Saturday night.

Photo: Janet Hostetter, Associated Press - Ap

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Kyle Rau has this spot on the ice. A few feet from the crease. Near the right post.

Any time he gets the puck there, it's usually a goal.

On Saturday, the freshman from Eden Prairie got the puck in his sweet spot with 46 seconds to play and buried it to give the Gophers hockey team a 3-2 comeback victory over North Dakota at Mariucci Arena.

It was Rau's eighth goal of the season and his fourth game-winner. His goal came about five minutes after teammate Nick Larson tied the score at 2-2.

"It was an unbelievable feeling when Lars scored that [tying goal]," Rau said. "The bench -- we got so much instant energy after [his] goal and it carried over."

Nick Bjugstad started the late scoring play with a pass to Zach Budish in the slot. Budish's shot was stopped, but the rebound slithered over to Rau.

"It was a fun weekend," Rau said. "It was a good way to go out like that."

No kidding. The Gophers, who beat North Dakota 2-0 on Friday, swept the Fighting Sioux in Minneapolis in a regular-season series for the first time since Nov. 8-9, 1996.

The sweep kept the No. 5-rated Gophers (9-1-0, 6-0-0) unbeaten in WCHA play, and a whopping 10 points ahead of defending MacNaughton Cup champion North Dakota (3-6-1, 1-5-0).

"North Dakota is a good team, they are going to be just fine," Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "We are just feeling fortunate we got a couple of wins and [can] move on."

Rau credits his early success to his teammates and coaches. "My linemates, Budish and Bjugstad, are unbelievable," said Rau, who was named college hockey's Rookie of the Month for October. "And the coaches have put me in spots to be successful with the power play and playing with those two guys.

"Budish made a nice play to knock [the puck] down, shoot it and it came off [the goalie's] pad right on my stick and I just threw it in."

Sounds simple, but scoring on UND was a challenge for the Gophers.

"We know [Dell] is a good goalie," Larson said. "Sooner or later if you keep working hard and getting pucks to the net there -- he can't make every save. We knew we would get a scrappy goal, a dirty goal like that. I got mine and then Rau was in a perfect place, a perfect time again and made a big play for us."

Until the Gophers' two late goals, it looked as if Rocco Grimaldi of North Dakota would be the hero.

Grimaldi was picked to be the WCHA freshmen of the year by league coaches and the media. But until Saturday, the North Dakota forward had played only three games because of a lower-body injury.

His first college goal midway through the second gave North Dakota a 2-1 lead. Bjugstad and Brock Nelson of UND had first-period goals.

Lucia said he was impressed with his fourth line Saturday, which consisted of Larson, Travis Boyd and Tom Serratore.

As for the winning goal, Lucia said that is typical Rau. Last March he scored the game-winning goal in the Class 2A title game as Eden Prairie beat Duluth East in triple overtime.

"That is his history," Lucia said. "Great players make great plays at critical moments of games. And he has done that all his life."

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