Souhan: If it's Hockey Day somewhere, Rau is a scoring threat

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 20, 2012 - 12:26 PM

The on-again, off-again Wild forward is cultivating a knack for beating goalies on special occasions and in front of family.

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Wild forward Chad Rau (back) celebrated after slipping a nifty wrist shot past Bruins goalie Tim Thomas to open the scoring in Minnesota's 2-0 victory over Boston on Sunday.

Photo: Genevieve Ross, Associated Press

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Sunday afternoon, Wild forward Chad Rau took a deft backhand pass from Dany Heatley and skated toward a bunch of people he had no idea he'd be seeing so soon, a who's who of hockey talent and family ties.

Saturday, Rau had begun taking a pregame nap in preparation for the Houston Aeros' game in Abbotsford, British Columbia, when he received a text from Aeros General Manager Jim Mill.

"Call me as soon as you can," it read.

"I don't have an international plan on my phone," Rau said. "Luckily, the text came through, otherwise I wouldn't have had a clue."

Mill told Rau to take a cab to the Vancouver airport, almost two hours away. Rau made it an hour before his flight to Los Angeles, and cleared customs just in time. "I was sweating a little bit," he said.

In L.A., he changed terminals and missed a 9:45 flight, then took the red-eye to Minnesota, ate a pregame breakfast and took a quick nap before heading to the X.

Rau arrived just in time. The Wild hadn't won a game in regulation since Feb. 2, and had tumbled through the standings since.

The Wild and Boston Bruins were scoreless in the second period. Cal Clutterbuck scraped a puck off the boards and flicked it to Heatley. Heatley fed the rookie, who sped up ice.

With time to think, Rau would have been surprised by the faces around him in the Bruins' end. He didn't have time to think.

Massive defenseman Zdeno Chara hedged toward Wild defenseman Marco Scandella, who was trailing the play.

Tim Thomas, the Bruins' outstanding goaltender and supposed conscientious objector, might have leaned toward Scandella, too. To Thomas' right sat Rau's family, with his brothers screaming through the glass.

Rau took a long, exaggerated look at Scandella, then, almost without looking, ripped a shot past Thomas.

"He was looking so far back," said Wild defenseman Nate Prosser, who played with Rau at Colorado College. "That was amazing. I don't even know if he could do it again. I know I haven't seen him do that before. It was just what the team needed."

On Jan. 25, Rau had scored his first NHL goal, a game-winner on Hockey Day Minnesota.

On Sunday, hours after returning to St. Paul and facing the defending Stanley Cup champions, Rau scored a game-winner on Hockey Day In America, as the Wild for the first time had four Minnesotans play for it in a game.

You can see the Wild marketing team introducing Hockey Night in St. Paul, then Hockey Night In the General Proximity of Tom Reid's Hockey City Pub, in an attempt to dredge maximum goals from Rau.

"I don't mind if there are hockey days," Rau said with a smile.

Mike Rau, Chad's father, attended the game with his three other sons. Kyle is a standout freshman winger for the Gophers. Curt, Kyle's twin, plays in the North American Hockey League, and Matt, the oldest, is a resident at Hennepin County Medical Center.

When he moved the family from Chicago to Eden Prairie in 1996, a friend of Mike's built a sport court and a backyard rink, and soon Mike had three hockey players, plus a medic to mend them.

"The cool thing was, his brothers were down by the glass when he scored," Mike said.

Rau is hardly the only player the Wild has called up, while desperately seeking healthy bodies and scoring. The team has used 39 players this season. Some stay for a few days of per diem, meander around the ice and depart.

Wild coach Mike Yeo, who has pushed more buttons than an accordion player while trying to revive his team, hinted that Rau could stick around.

"Not just the fact that he scored the goal, but I was really impressed with his game," Yeo said. "You're going out, playing against a heavy, hard team, and I thought his 'D' zone coverage was really strong, I thought his puck execution was really good.

"He knows when to make a smart play and when to make more of a skilled play, and I was impressed with his puck strength. ... He wants to make a difference, and I like that."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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