MINNEAPOLIS- There was a rush from the Minnesota bench to mob Kyle Rau when the senior captain scored his third collegiate overtime winner Saturday against RIT in the consolation game. As the players celebrated, their joy was mixed with relief from a weekend where offense and goals were hard to come by at the Mariucci Classic.
The Rouser from Rau was one they wanted to hear.
Minnesota (10-5-1, 1-0-1-0 Big Ten) put up a season-high 49 shots on Tigers goalie Mike Rotolo, but the Gophers needed the extra period to avoid going winless in its own tournament with a 3-2 win over RIT (5-10-3, 4-5-3 Atlantic Hockey)
This comes a night after the team out-shot Merrimack 42-17 and lost.
"We generated a whole lot of offense over the weekend, but they are not going in. That's hockey," said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia Saturday after his team finished third in the Mariucci Classic. "We've all been around it and that's what I told them."
This time the one to break through was Rau (Florida Panthers), known for getting big goals at big times - 20 of the senior's 54 goals have been game winning goals - and maybe a little television. Reunited with linemate Hudson Fasching (Buffalo Sabres), who returned from the World Junior Championships along with freshman Ryan Collins (Columbus Blue Jackets), the two hooked up for the game-winning goal.
Fasching's shot went off Rotolo's far pad. Rau saw the rebound and tried to go far side on his backhand, which was good for his seventh goal of the season and 20th point.
"He's an elite player obviously representing our country. It was fun watching him on TV," Rau said about Fasching. Rau was also able to learn from watching the sophomore forward on television rather than being on the ice. He had a better view of what Fasching, named one Team USA's three best players, did away from the puck.
One thing the Gophers, entering Saturday with only 2 wins in its last 7 games, were focusing on against RIT was getting tips and rebounds.
"We had a lot of shots, but when you look at the chart I could have saved half of them," Rau said.
UMass-Lowell wins Mariucci Classic
Dylan Zink scored the game-tying and winning goals as the River Hawks defeated Merrimack 3-1 to take home the Mariucci Classic title in an all-Hockey East affair.
Although getting more chances in front of the net was stressed, Minnesota's first goal by sophomore forward Vinni Lettieri came that way. The Excelsior, MN native tipped a shot by Christian Isackson (Buffalo Sabres) past Rotolo. Dan Schuler, however, tied the game at 1 five and a half minutes later on a rush which beat Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning), who made 19 saves in victory.
Once again the Gophers out-shot an opponent heavily (16-5) and only had a tied score to show for it.
Junior defenseman Mike Reilly (Columbus Blue Jackets) broke an 0-8 power play drought on the weekend when the reigning Big Ten defenseman of the year took a pass from Rau and unleashed a cannon from the blue line 6:32 into the middle period for his fourth goal of the season.
"I think Merrimack had a really good penalty kill coming in," Reilly said. "RIT really blocked shots. They had a lot of heart out there to get out on a knee and that's something we can look at to try to bring to our game, getting down on a knee like that and blocking shots and everything."
At the same time, special teams wasn't an area where the Gophers were successful adhering to the advice to crash the net.
"We were shooting pucks and got a little too cute at times around the net area. Instead of taking it to the net we were looking for the extra pass and kind of skated away from the area," he added.
RIT had several chances to tie the game in the third, including a point-blank stop by Adam Wilcox on Michael Holland with 13 minutes remaining, before Brandon Thompson got his second goal of the season with 7:08 left. Seth Ambroz (Blue Jackets) and Travis Boyd (Washington Capitals) each had Grade A chances saved by Rotolo. The Tigers came close on a power play of its own which straddled the end of regulation and overtime.
Until Rau's winner, it felt like it would be that kind of game for Minnesota in that kind of season. To have it not be is why the celebration mattered.
"If you continue to do those things, those trends, then you'll start to get rewarded. This weekend maybe we didn't get rewarded for our overall play, but the bottom line we found a way to win," Lucia said. "Our captain came through for us tonight."
Now Minnesota hopes to get rewarded - and two more players for its full lineup - more often for its shots and possession beginning when it resumes Big Ten conference play against Michigan in Ann Arbor January 9-10. It's a place the Gophers know well. The last time the team went to Yost Arena Minnesota celebrated an overtime winner by Rau.
And in that celebration the team had one of pure joy. It was there in Ann Arbor the Gophers clinched the Big Ten.
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate