Carson Gunderson is one of the smallest players on the Wisconsin Rapids squad at 5'7", 120 pounds, but had the largest impact Friday afternoon as the Red Raiders edged West Salem 2-1 in the opening game of the Rapids Invite at the South Wood County Rec Center.
'Gundy' scored twice, aided by a pair of assists from Cobe Acker and Keagan Christy as Rapids tallied once each in the second and third periods to improve to 10-12-1.
The first half of the Wisconsin Prep Hockey Game of the Week was scoreless but Acker missed on a chance from the slot just over six minutes in when his shot sailed just wide right, much to the relief of the West Salem fans and goalie Sterling Skrede.
Shortly after, Rapids defenseman Blake Balko was charged with a five-minute penalty for head contact, but the Red Raiders were able to kill off the major to keep the game scoreless.
The period ended with Skrede saving nine pucks and Rapids goalie Torger Stachurski stopping eight shots.
West Salem (7-14-1) missed on a power play chance six minutes into the middle period, but the hosts would not fail a couple minutes later.
Acker was working with the puck on the low left side as the penalty time was winding down. With ten seconds left, the senior skated toward the crease and as he was harassed by a defender, slid the puck across to Gunderson, who scored in the mostly vacated net for the 1-0 lead.
West Salem nearly tied the game three minutes later, but a combination of skill and luck kept the puck out of the net, as Stachurski made three nice saves, followed by an on-ice blast by a West Salem winger from the left corner that went across the crease behind the Rapids goalie and into the opposite corner.
Rapids wouldn't be so lucky moments later when Connor Brown found an unattended puck in the high slot and zipped it into the upper left corner past the Rapids goalie's upraised blocker to even the contest at one apiece. Ian Lastofka and Nathan Gribble earned helpers on the play with 2:40 left in the stanza.
The buzzer sounded on the 1-1 game, with Skrede stopping 11 pucks in the period, and Stachurski with seven.
Third period play was scoreless until the game clock showed under seven minutes left.
Acker was again the originator of action as he came down the right side with speed, gaining a slight advantage on the West Salem defender before sliding a pass back to the slot, where it hit the stick of Gunderson. The sophomore wristed a shot past the blocker of Skrede for the eventual game-winning goal.
With just over two minutes left, a Rapids penalty set up West Salem for a game-tying power play. West Salem coach Eric Borre—a Rapids alumnus—called time-out to set strategy for the waning moments.
Skrede came off for an extra skater with just over a minute left, in effect giving West Salem a 6-on-4 edge for just over 40 seconds, but Rapids killed off the penalty in grabbing the 2-1 win.
Stachurski stopped five shots for a game total of 20 saves, while Skrede also played well, with nine saves for a game total of 29.