Rau – I’m very fortunate. I never thought I could live somewhere like this and play hockey!
Source: Club Press-Office
Chad Rau’s hot streak continued on Saturday with a goal and an assist in Kunlun’s 3-1 win over Sibir. That made it seven games in a row where he got among the points, posting 8+4 in that time. So what better moment to catch up with our goal-hungry forward and find out more about his journey from a sports-mad family in Minnesota to blazing a trail for hockey in China?
Could you tell us a bit about your career before coming to China?
I played for SaiPa in Finland for a year-and-a-half and before that I had my first experience in Europe playing in Austria for a little bit. Earlier I was in the Minnesota system for something like five-and-a-half years and then was sent to Worcester and San Jose. Prior to that I played four years in college in Colorado.
And you come from quite a sporting family?
Yeah, my older brother played hockey for a while. Now he’s a doctor, but he was the one who kinda got me into hockey. He’s a year-and-a-half older than me so when I saw him playing, that’s what made me want to play. Then I’ve two younger brothers who are twins. One is still playing in Florida’s organization right now but the other is done playing and he’s back in school.
So hockey was the natural choice in your family?
Yeah, my Dad played hockey, football and baseball growing up. I don’t know why but he got us into hockey the most. I think football and baseball were his preferred sports but for whatever reason we liked hockey. He’s a big influence on us.
What about the highlights of your career in North America?
Winning the Under-18 World Championship was really cool experience. I was playing in Des Moines in Junior A and the US national is a completely different set-up. The players live there all year round, and they invited me to come and join them. They invited me earlier in the season when they had an injury at a five-nations tournament in Sweden and then they invited me back for the U18s. That was really cool. I got to spend some time in Europe, we were there for almost a month for the tournament and it was a new experience.
And you made it to the NHL?
That was fun, really cool, especially for someone growing up in Minnesota and being a Minnesota sports fan. Getting the chance to play for them and having some of my family able to be there and see me play was special.
You scored some goals there, which must have been memorable.
In my very first game I was fortunate enough to get a good bounce and score. That was pretty cool. I was so excited I didn’t even know what to do. We scored a quick three in a row and I was able to score as we got back into the game and got a lead. It was a fun game to be a part of.
Was it hard when you first came to Europe?
Austria was tough at first. I got injured in the last pre-season game so I missed the first couple weeks of the season. That was tough, just trying to get back into it. Fortunately it worked out that I could get a move to a slightly better league and I went to Finland. I enjoyed that a lot more, maybe the style was a bit more like the North American game I was used to playing, and it helped to transition me to a European style of hockey. It’s a different style, but it’s fun and it’s really offensive hockey which I like.
And we could say you took Finland by storm and were the top scorer that season.
It was a good season. We had a really good team and I was able to play with some good players too. We did a bit better than lots of people expected so it was fun to prove people wrong. Unfortunately, we had some injuries and couldn’t go as far into the playoffs as we’d like, but that happens sometimes.
And how about your move to the KHL?
This was my first offer to come here but I followed the KHL pretty closely last year. In Finland there’s a lot of cover of Jokerit so I got to see them sometimes. On my days off I’d try to watch some of my friends who were playing in the league last year. I enjoyed watching them, seeing the games, watching those big-name players. I got interested last year and I always knew that if I had the opportunity then I’d want to play in this league.
When you play in so many different countries, with line-mates from all over the world, how does that affect the chemistry? Is it more comfortable playing with Europeans, or your fellow North Americans?
Being able to speak a common language definitely helps, just for talking on the ice. It helps you know where your guys are. I guess there is some difference between players but it doesn’t really matter if you’re North American or Swedish, some guys play differently. But being able to talk does help a lot out there.
You started here on a solid line with two Finns. Now you’re playing with a Swede and a North American and it seems even better. Was it hard to adjust to your new partners?
Yeah, a bit. At first I was playing with Miika [Lahti] and Max [Warn]. They’re both really good players who work really hard at all ends of the ice so it was easy to play with them because you knew what each other was going to do. That’s how we had a lot of success playing together.
The first time the coach put me together with Linus [Videll] and Sean [Collins] was against SKA. We had some good chances but weren’t clicking 100%. It was close, but it wasn’t quite there all the time and the coach put me back with Miika and Max. But then after these recent injuries we’ve playing really well, our power play has been really good and helps us generate a lot of chances. When we have been able to cycle the puck, we’ve been creating a lot of chances too.
What’s your overall impression of the KHL now you’re a part of it?
It’s a good league. I really enjoy playing these other teams, it’s fun to see all the different players on each team and get a chance to play against guys you’ve been following throughout your career. It’s a strong league, there’s lots of skill, it’s fun hockey.
And how about coming to China? Did you have to think hard before agreeing to play here?
China’s been a great experience too. I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to live somewhere like this and play hockey, so I feel very fortunate to have that chance here.
Have you had much chance to see anything of China away from the rink?
A little bit. When we arrived in Beijing we got to see a couple of things right away. We went to the Forbidden City, and I’d like to go back and spend some more time looking around there. Here in Shanghai it’s been nice to explore the financial district, look around those buildings and check out some of the restaurants. I’ve enjoyed doing that.
And what about the Chinese lifestyle?
I’ve enjoyed it. The food’s been great. I like trying new things, so eating here is definitely enjoyable. It’s a little different than the Chinese fast food we have back home, but it’s really good.
And, of course, we have to talk about the travel since we spend so much time on planes.
That’s a change. It’s been a challenge but I think it works in our favor just as much because teams have to come here. It is what it is. It would be nicer if we could play more games on the road at a time rather than come back and adjust, but we seem to be doing OK with it. I’m surprised how healthy we’ve been, nobody got sick on all those trips, but I think overall the travel helps us out more than it hurts us.
People are also surprised at our results this season. Why do you think we’re playing better than many expected?
I think we’ve been playing good team hockey. We’ve been pretty consistent and we’ve gotten good goaltending all year which has helped us a lot. Our home record is pretty good too. Overall, it’s just the consistency of our team game that’s been pretty good.