When Eden Prairie takes the ice against Lakeville North in the opening round of the state tournament Thursday night, one of the Eagles' biggest supporters will be searching for updates from afar.
Chad Rau is in his second season with the Wild's AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros. His brothers – twins Curt and Kyle Rau – are seniors on this year's Eden Prairie team.
"There's nothing that compares to it," Chad said of his high school experiences.
Many share that sentiment when it comes to playing at Xcel Energy Center, widely viewed as one of the best hockey arenas in the country. All of the Rau boys – Matt, Chad, Curt and Kyle – have been fortunate enough to skate there.
After a high school career that included a stop at the X in 2003 and then in the WCHA Final Five with Colorado College, Chad's latest chance was last month with the Aeros. The team played an afternoon game there against Peoria, a treat for Wild season ticket holders to see the future of the team.
"Nice to be back," he said. "Some of my best memories are here playing in games. The buzz was huge. There is nothing that compares to it. It's amazing to think that it's been so long since we played here my sophomore year. Time goes by fast."
Kyle Rau – this year's Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year after a 36-goal, 38-assist season -- is following his brother to the WCHA, but will stay close to home to be with the Gophers.
First, though, it's another state tournament for the Rau family.
"I'll come home for Christmas, the DVDs of our state games will be sitting there," Chad Rau said. "As a Minnesota kid, it doesn't get much better than that."
Eden Prairie (21-5-2) received the No. 1 seed in this year's tournament. The Eagles' game against the unseeded Panthers (13-14-1) is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Hornets, Mustangs are back
Edina, the defending Class 2A champion, and defending Class 1A champ Breck are also back in the state tournament.
The Hornets (18-7-2) advanced by defeating Burnsville 3-2 in the Section 2 final on a late goal by Jake Sampson. They received the No. 2 seed and open the Class 2A field at 11 a.m. on Thursday against Blaine (20-4-4).
Edina is playing in its fifth consecutive state tournament, but it is hardly a tedious task.
"This time of year is unbelievable in high school hockey," coach Curt Giles said. "If you don't get excited this time of year, you don't have a pulse."
Breck (20-8) bucked some early-season struggles to advance back to state for the third consecutive season and eighth overall.
The Mustangs open state play at 8 p.m. Wednesday against Thief River Falls (19-8-1).
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