Rau returns home to spur Wild win over Dallas
ST. PAUL, Minn. — As he addressed the media minutes after his NHL debut, Minnesota Wild center Chad Rau received a gift from teammate Cal Clutterbuck. The veteran forward weaved through a group of reporters to give Rau a shaving cream pie in the face.
The rookie Rau sat stunned, looking around for something to wipe his face with.
"I can finish it like this," said Rau, unable to find a towel as the shaving cream stung his eyes.
After the game he just had, not even a shaving cream pie could hide the smile from Rau's face. In his first-ever NHL game, Rau scored his first-ever NHL goal. Not only that, but it was the game-winner in Minnesota's 5-2 victory over the visiting Dallas Stars and helped the Wild (23-18-7) snap a four-game losing streak.
It also happened to come on Hockey Day Minnesota — fitting for Rau, who grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie.
"Good for him. Minnesota boy, Hockey Day in Minnesota," Clutterbuck said. "I'm happy for him. It's one of those things that it's not just the goal. He was good for us all night."
Added fellow Minnesotan and Wild teammate Matt Cullen: "Good kid. I'm happy for him. He provided us a big spark."
Rau became the 13th Minnesotan to skate for the Wild in the team's history, and the sixth this season. He was also the sixth player to make his NHL debut this year for Minnesota.
Hours before Rau stepped on the Xcel Energy Center ice for his debut, his younger brother, Kyle was helping lead the Minnesota Golden Gophers to a 2-1 win over Colorado College — his older brother's alma mater.
After the Gophers' victory, the Rau family — including Chad's parents, Mike and Lynne — raced over from Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul just in time to see Chad's NHL debut.
Having his family in the stands made the night even better for Rau.
"It's pretty exciting," Rau said.
Rau, 25, was a seventh-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2005 NHL Draft. After graduating from Colorado College in 2009, Rau spent the next three years with the Houston Aeros of the AHL.
The Wild finally called up Rau on Dec. 18 after he scored five goals and nine assists with the Aeros, but he never saw the ice with Minnesota. Rau was sent back down to Houston two days later, hoping his chance would come again soon.
"I got called up in Vancouver and got close but didn't get to play. I wasn't sure what to expect this time," Rau said. "As soon as I found out I was in (the lineup), I was just really excited."
Rau was recalled again on Friday. One day later, his first NHL goal helped spark the Wild to a four-goal second period. Rau took the puck behind the goal, skated in front of Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen and fired on net to put Minnesota up 3-2 at the 13:51 mark of the second period.
"He's not a huge guy, but I thought he used his stick well and his position was good," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "He's willing to go to the hard areas. His goal was a hard-working goal for a guy who has skill."
Rau was on the ice behind the goal but somehow got up to move with the puck. Carson McMillan and Jed Ortmeyer were credited with the assists — the first of the year for both of them — on Rau's first career goal.
"Orts dumped it in, and me and Mac both went for it," said Rau, who finished with eight minutes and 36 seconds of ice time in his debut. "I think I kind of fell. I noticed the D was down, so I just took it from that, shot it and got the rebound. I really didn't see it go in. …
"It was awesome. I kind of blacked out after it. We were all just going nuts in the celebration. It was really fun."
Rau's goal was the middle of three second-period tallies in a stretch of 59 seconds for the Wild, which easily set a franchise record for the quickest three-goal span. The previous mark was 1:41, set in March of 2004 against Chicago.
As goalie Josh Harding and the Wild held on to preserve the 5-2 win, Rau was credited with the game-winning goal. He was also the game's No. 1 star.
Not a bad way to start out an NHL career.
"It's a pretty good debut right there," Yeo said. "If you like guys who want to go out and score a game-winning goal in their first game, that was pretty good."