Big Ten Hockey: Minnesota wins first Big Ten regular season title Friday behind Kyle Rau's OT winner

Your 2013-14 Big Ten Hockey Champion Minnesota Golden Gophers - Nathan Wells/SB Nation

Rau beat Michigan goaltender Zach Nagelvoort in front of the net 2:44 into overtime for a 3-2 Gophers win.

Earlier this week University of Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, calling himself an old school type, lamented ending games in shootout rather than ties.

"It keeps more teams in it and I understand that, but we only play 20 (conference) games. They're not very many games. We'll see what happens this spring, we'll talk about it," he said. "What's wrong with a tie? Is there any extra satisfaction? It doesn't count in the NCAA standings or anything, so is there any extra satisfaction because somebody has a breakaway and scores a goal? I don't get any extra satisfaction from it; even at the NHL level.

"Personally I don't watch the shootouts. I don't find them very interesting."

Fortunately for Lucia, and the Gophers, who have yet to win a conference shootout in 3 attempts, neither did the rest of us no matter what we may think about shootouts in college hockey. Kyle Rau (Florida Panthers draft pick) made sure Friday that his head coach's preferences were kept in mind against Michigan.

Rau beat Wolverines goaltender Zach Nagelvoort for an overtime-winning goal on the power play 2:44 into the extra period as Minnesota (24-4-6, 13-2-3-0 Big Ten) won 3-2 at Yost Arena. With the junior co-captain's goal, the Gophers clinched the inaugural Big Ten regular season title.

"Coming into this year, it was going to be the first ever Big Ten title. That was our goal when the year began," Lucia said Friday. "We lost some really good players off of last year's team, some returning guys stepped up with their level of play and the freshman have complemented our team very, very well."

With the loss, third-place Michigan (17-12-4, 9-8-2-1 Big Ten) falls into 15th place in the Pairwise. That's currently the final at-large bid although it depends on how other conference tournaments play out.

Minnesota got on the board first 9:20 into the game when Brady Sjkei (New York Rangers) scored his 4th goal of the season on a knuckling puck that found the back of the net.

Skjei's goal erased an opening 7-1 shot advantage for Michigan. However, Nagelvoort, who made 25 saves Friday, settled down after the goal, as did his team. By the end of the first period the Wolverines led 2-1 with Evan Allen and Andrew Copp (Winnipeg Jets) beating Gopher goalie Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning).

"It was hard fought. I thought Michigan was the better team in the first," Lucia said.

In Allen's case, the Michigan freshman forward scored on a shot that came from behind the net, off Wilcox and into the net.

Both teams tried to create separation on the second. A Yost ice surface that seemed to encourage slower play and bounces saw pucks bounce over sticks and tape to tape passes fail to meet targets. Minnesota seemed to gain momentum as the period went on, though.

Nagelvoort saved a couple Gopher chances and sophomore defenseman Mike Reilly (Columbus Blue Jackets) had a pair of slap shot go wide, but Minnesota's persistence paid off late. Justin Kloos snapped a wrist shot past the Michigan goalie, off the post and in to tie the game with 2:08 remaining in the second period.

The game stayed tied at two with Wilcox, who made 22 saves, denying Michigan the go-ahead goal at home. Mike Reilly created a penalty in overtime when Derek DeBlois was forced to hold him on a partial breakaway, which led to Rau's Big Ten-winning goal - his 10th of the season - on the doorstep of the Wolverines net.

"(Hudson) Fasching got it on the goal line," said Rau about the process which led to his goal. "I knew the goalie was down, so I tried to shoot it up high and I got lucky it went in."

Scoring an overtime winner in front of the net is nothing new for Rau. While he's listed at 5'8", 173 lbs, the center has a tendency to get in dirty areas and make things happen. He has the team's last overtime winner, which happened nearly a year to the day (March 15, 2013 against Bemidji State), and scored a HS state championship OT-winning goal in 2011.

Now add a Big Ten decider.

The Gophers took all 3 points Friday for a total 45 points while second-place Wisconsin entered the weekend needing to make up a five point deficit in the last two games. (It didn't matter as the Badgers fell in overtime themselves, 5-4, to Michigan State Friday.)

Adding the two regular season titles won in the WCHA, Lucia's 2012-2014 squads became Friday the first Minnesota men's hockey teams to win 3 consecutive regular season championships in school history.

And it didn't even happen with a shootout. To answer Lucia's proposed question earlier in the week, there is something wrong with a tie if it comes in the way of an overtime winner. Big Ten deciding goal or not, OT is a lot more fun when it's not a rush to get to a skills competition.

Minnesota and Michigan play again at Yost Arena tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. ET on BTN. Following that game, the Wolverines play Penn State Thursday in St. Paul in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. The Gophers, meanwhile, will face the winner of Michigan State/Ohio State Friday evening.


Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter --

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