Kyle Rau's grandfather, Jerry Rau, left, pictured with Geno Cappelletti. Star Tribune file photo
"I got to like Rau because of how hard he worked on the football field," Giel was quoted as saying in a 1953 newspaper story. "He impressed me as a guy who never quit."
Jerry Rau, playing in a single wing, often pulled to block for Giel on runs and passes. Before he died in 2000, Jerry Rau enjoyed telling stories to his twin grandsons on their vacation visits about his football days and other life experiences.
At home, Kyle had a backyard rink and three brothers to play with. Matt is 26 years old now. Chad, who has bounced back and forth between the Houston Aeros and the Wild this season, is 25. Matt stands 6-1, Chad 5-11 and Curt, born one minute before Kyle, is 5-10, 185.
"Kyle had to work hard and strengthen himself to compete with us," Curt said.
Said their father, Mike Rau, who played for Edina West in high school: "Kyle was always dragged along when the two older boys were playing. And he would always go behind the net and watch the games from ice level. He was always watching and studying. ... Of all our kids, Kyle was always the best checker."
Coaches and teammates alike marvel at his hockey IQ, his ability to find open spots near the net. Budish appreciates Rau's skill and versatility.
"He plays on the power play, he plays on the penalty kill. He is good defensively. He blocks shots," Budish said. "He does little things that don't show up on the scoresheet."
Away from the rink, Rau -- a serious student who is enrolled in the Carlson School of Management -- blends in easily with the mass of students at the university.
Well, except for his ultrablond hair. Team leaders coaxed everyone into dyeing their locks for the playoffs. Kyle's parents suggested a trim might be wise after the color change.
"No, we are going with it," he said.
He wants to fit in, even if it temporarily means looking like a member of a punk rock band.
The best for last
One of Rau's strongest traits is particularly relevant this time of year: He plays his best in the biggest games.
In addition to his state tournament heroics last season, he scored in the last minute to give the Gophers a sweep of North Dakota at Mariucci Arena in early November. And in the first West Regional game last weekend, Rau had a goal and three assists against Boston University for a season-high four points.
"That is what we train for in the summertime," Rau said, "to be in the big game. And now it is here."
For the first time since 2005, the Gophers are in the Frozen Four. There are plenty of reasons, but Rau is near the top of the list.
"This is where the program belongs," Rau said, "and everyone knows that."