Gavin Gunderson appeared surprisingly calm as he lay on the Graham Arena ice on Dec. 28.
His parents were there next to him, as were trainers from Mayo Clinic, his coaches and Graham Arena officials.
They all did their best to keep the Rochester Century senior comfortable while waiting for an ambulance to take him to Mayo Clinic Hospital, Saint Marys Campus.
Gunderson, meanwhile, was doing his best to keep everyone around him at ease.
"My parents were out there on the ice next to me and I was telling her 'mom, it's not a big deal. It's going to be fine,'" Gunderson said. "I was just trying to keep my hopes up that everything was going to be OK.
"I was worried. I did not want my season to be over."
It turned out that Gunderson's season was far from over. He has been back in the lineup since Jan. 16 and has picked up where he left off, recording nine goals and 17 points in seven games.
He scored both of the Panthers' goals Thursday — both in the third period — in a 2-1 victory against Owatonna that puts Century (17-4-1 overall) in the driver's seat to win its second consecutive Big Nine Conference championship and possibly earn a home playoff game.
"It's been awesome having back out there," Century senior goalie Tim Pundt said. "He contributes a lot; he's a hard worker, he really brings a lot of energy to the table and it's awesome having him back."
A FRIGHTENING MOMENT
From afar, the collision between Gunderson and Bemidji forward Wyatt Halvorson looked like just another hit in a hockey game.
But, Halvorson's knee was driven hard into Gunderson's upper leg late in the second period of the Kiwanis Festival championship game. The hit knocked Gunderson to the ice and left him in agonizing pain. It was initially feared that he had suffered a broken femur.
"Obviously at that point it hurt a lot and I thought that it was worse than it was," Gunderson said. "To take the precaution they sent me in the ambulance. Once I got there, it was about a half-hour until they read the X-ray, then doctor came in and said it wasn't a break."
An X-ray showed that Gunderson had a deep muscle contusion.
His night got better a short time later when Century coach Josh Klingfus walked into Gunderson's hospital room with the Kiwanis Festival championship trophy and a championship hat, but the Panthers first-line winger chuckled as he recounted the story of leaving the hospital.
"When I was walking out of the hospital, they had me all (medicated), and I passed out, so I had to go right back in," he said with a laugh. "But I was back home that night."
Gunderson was ready to get back on the ice within a week, but he took a hit in a game against Farmington five days later and suffered an upper-body injury.
He was determined to get back on the ice as quickly as possible, but with the big picture in mind, he was held out of the lineup for two more weeks.
"We just had to be careful with him and his health, we didn't want more issues to come up," Klingfus said. "He was champing at the bit — he wanted to play, wanted to play, wanted to play, but we had to be cautious and hold him out of the lineup until he was completely healed.
"We need him at the end of the season, not the middle."
DOESN'T SKIP A BEAT
Gunderson made his full-time return to the Panthers' lineup on Jan. 16, exactly one month before the end of the regular season.
And he didn't skip a beat.
He scored 6:11 into his first game back, then added two assists in Century's 7-2 win at Mankato East. A week later, in his second game back in the lineup, he had his best game of the season, scoring two goals and adding four assists in a victory against Austin.
Despite missing five-plus games, Gunderson is still Century's third-leading scorer with 19 goals and 45 points.
And his coaches and teammates discovered just what they were missing with Gunderson out of the lineup.
"Just another leader," Klingfus said. "All four of our (captains) lead in a different way. Gavin brings a lot of energy, he's one of our most feisty captains. He always has that chance to score. The puck just goes to his stick. Every shift, that line, someone on it has a chance to score."