If a collective groan — or a more subtle eye roll — emits from the postgame media gathering outside the Gophers men’s hockey locker room, the source of exasperation isn’t hard to figure out.
Kyle Rau is taking the questions that night.
Notorious for his clipped answers and quick exit, the junior forward is anything but quiet on the ice — from scoring sensational goals like his diving triple-overtime winner that won Eden Prairie the 2011 state title, to receiving a shove in the handshake line that started the infamous brawl against North Dakota during his freshman season.
To the fans, he’s a great player. To the media, he’s a terrible quote.
But to the people who know him best, he’s much more than what hockey entails.
“Around new people or around the media or something, he’s more sheltered and more conservative in his answers,” his twin brother, Curt Rau, said. “He’s not in it for the publicity. He’s in it just to play. I mean, he’s in it to win.”
The Kyle on the ice is very different from the Kyle off it. That might be what makes him such a dynamic player.
Kyle has 14 goals and a team-leading 23 assists with 37 points this season. In his career, about 40 percent of his goals have been game winners, and the Gophers win about 80 percent of the games when he tallies at least a point.
His lifelong friend and high school teammate, Colorado College freshman forward Luc Gerdes, said this success isn’t surprising because Kyle is “one of the most intense guys on the ice.”
Curt said he’s experienced that passion firsthand — he has clear memories of his brother’s voice rising above the rest when Curt messed up in a game.
“He’ll get in your face if you don’t do something right,” he said. “Kyle has an extra level, an extra edge that not very many people could reach.”
That fervor can sometimes come across to the crowd as annoying, because Rau is usually in the thick of the action — before and after the whistle.
His mother, Lynne Rau, said that isn’t an accurate picture of her son.
“His persona on the ice where … he chirps at everybody is definitely an on-ice persona,” she said. “His irritating personality is really just for the officials and for the people he’s playing against. He is really a sweetheart.”
Gerdes agreed his friend is laid-back off the ice — no fights, no issues, no drama in his life.
“I think it’s kind of funny that most people would probably think that he’s this highly wired kid off the ice,” Gerdes said. “But really, it’s so opposite.”
Curt said, as a whole, his twin’s “personality off the ice has nothing to do with his personality on the ice.”
That’s not hard to believe, considering Kyle’s non-hockey hobbies.
A marketing major with a high GPA he’s sported throughout his schooling, Kyle doesn’t spend every free moment partying in Dinkytown. His free time is pretty mellow in a way many college students relate.
“You can probably find me sitting in my room watching TV or doing a little homework and then watching some more TV,” the junior forward said. “It’s about all I do. I come to the rink and then I go sit on my butt and watch TV.”
He’s a documentary guy. He likes animals and watches a lot of Animal Planet and Discovery Channel. He’s currently enjoying the NBC crime drama “The Blacklist.”
Kyle said liking his alone time doesn’t make him weird.
“It’s not like I’m overly quiet where it’s awkwardly quiet,” he said. “I’d just rather sit in my room and hang out — watch my own show instead of let someone else pick what I watch.”
His mother said while her son is reserved, a better word to describe him would be “humble.”
“He’s not real boisterous or anything like that, and he does prefer just being around familiar things, whether that be his house or his room,” she said. “He could have had his success go to his head, and he really, totally has not. That’s not him at all.”
Lynne said Kyle is witty, delivering quick one-liners that crack her up. His sense of humor is another quality people don’t see unless they know him.
“He may come across as aloof or disinterested,” she said, “but once you engage him, he is nice and will answer questions and is just a very friendly guy.”
Gerdes said his friend has never needed to be the center of attention. While Kyle commands the spotlight in the rink, he dodges it in everyday life.
Kyle said he uses hockey as an outlet.
“It’s a good release of energy,” he said. “And you can take your anger out on someone if you need to, and it’s OK.”
Rau-sing without the rah-rah
This season, Kyle wears a jersey stitched with a “C,” but he isn’t a stereotypical captain.
He leaves senior captain Nate Condon to handle interviews with eloquence and deliver inspiring locker room speeches. Kyle’s job is a little more hands-on.
“Nate does the vocal leader stuff,” he said. “I’m kind of the example on the ice, work ethic kind of guy.”
That hasn’t changed since he was a boy playing youth hockey with the same group of about 10 Eden Prairie, Minn., friends he’s had his whole life.
“He was always our leader, always our best player growing up,” Gerdes said. “We all kind of looked up to him, and he kind of set the bar pretty high for hard work.”
Gophers junior defenseman Ben Marshall said his roommate’s responsibility is one of the qualities he is most revered for on the team.
“He gets to bed, probably, at better hours than any of the other guys do,” he said. “We like to stay up and watch TV. He likes to get his full eight hours.”
Though Kyle doesn’t speak up as much as some of his more gregarious teammates, Gerdes said that might be advantageous.
“When he talks, people listen,” he said. “When he’s got something to say, it means something.” Or as Kyle puts it, “It’s not like I’m running my mouth for no reason.”
That may be why he isn’t so verbose in press conferences — he’s waiting until he has something important to say.
His tight-lipped demeanor may be misleading on the surface, but Kyle is anything but indifferent.
“Not very many people truly see,” Chad said, “how much he cares.”