Rau, Wilcox put team back on top

A weekend sweep put the Gophers in a tie for first place in the Big Ten.

Ben Gotz

With one minute remaining Saturday, the Gophers clung to a one-goal lead with Michigan’s goaltender pulled.

Michigan’s offense with a man advantage brought pressure.

Goaltender Adam Wilcox held.

The Gophers got the puck out of the zone. Sophomore forward Hudson Fasching pushed it ahead from the neutral zone, where it found the stick of senior captain Kyle Rau by the empty net.

Goal. Game. And as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” echoed throughout Mariucci Arena, symbolizing a sweep, one thought did the same: The Gophers are back.

They’re back after sweeping the Wolverines 6-2 and 2-0 to move into a tie for first place in the Big Ten.

They’re back after holding the top offense in the nation to two goals over two games.

And they’re back because their goaltender — and by extension, the team — found his groove again.

“I think, along with me and the whole team, we got our game together,” Wilcox said. “We found our confidence. We kind of got our swagger back, and now for the last eight games, we really [have] to come like we did this weekend and put a lot of pressure on.”

Wilcox led his team to victory Saturday night — the first goaltender to shut out the Wolverines this season.

Last month against Michigan, Wilcox was at his worst. He gave up nine goals in two games and was pulled out of the series early.

But this time against the Wolverines, things were different.

“Anytime you go out there and get swept, you [have] to want to send a message to them,” Wilcox said. “And I think the guys came out really hard.”

Even before the opening whistle Friday, the Gophers were playing hard with freshman forward Leon Bristedt and Michigan sophomore forward JT Compher pushing each other before the faceoff.

Once the puck dropped, the two teams flashed their speed and skill, going back-and-forth on Mariucci’s Olympic ice sheet.

But before long, the Gophers took control. Once Rau scored the first goal for the Gophers on the power play, the team couldn’t stop.

By the middle of the second period, Rau scored his second goal shorthanded to make it 5-0.

Before the end of the night, Rau added another goal for the second hat trick of his career   and he scored his 150th career point.

“That’s Kyle,” head coach Don Lucia said. “He usually steps up in the big moment in the big game.”

Rau stepped up again the following night with his empty-net goal, sealing the sweep for the Gophers and allowing his bench to exhale.

The game-winning goal for the Gophers on Saturday came from senior forward Seth Ambroz in the first period finding the side of the net to put his team ahead.

“I just tried getting it off quick,” Ambroz said. “I just wanted to get it on net, and I was able to find a hole. It was like the puck had eyes.”

The one goal was all the Gophers needed, as an emphasis on disciplined defense and shot blocking helped them shut down Michigan’s prolific offense.

“Everyone’s buying into our system, buying into our team, and it’s a lot of fun to be a part of,” Ambroz said. “We got guys selling out with their bodies and making plays that are critical in the game.”

Enough fun to put a smile on the usually-stoic Rau’s face Friday right before he said, “Kind of feels like we’re coming on, doesn’t it?”