Red Deer Rebels forward Brandon Hagel could set a new franchise mark for assists by seasons end. (Photo bv BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Hagel closes in on Rebels all-time assists mark

Hagel needs four assists to pass Arron Asham for the franchise lead

Consistency is key for Red Deer Rebels star Brandon Hagel.

As Hagel continues to light up the WHL this year with 70 points in 43 games, he is also closing in on a historic mark for the franchise.

Originally listed by Red Deer after being passed over in the WHL Bantam Draft, Hagel is set to play regular season game 237 on the weekend. All of those have come as a member of the Rebels.

His consistency over four seasons in Red Deer allowed him to close in on Arron Asham for the all-time franchise mark in assists.

Hagel has notched 43 helpers in 43 games this year and has 158 in his career. Asham finished with 161 assists over 266 games as a Rebel.

This weekend with a pair of home games at the Centrium, Hagel could become the franchise assists leader.

“I’m just going to try and stick to my game if it happens, it happens. Definitely not something I’m focusing on,” Hagel said Thursday before practice.

In a season where the 20-year-old also had a dream come true by signing an NHL contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, his production has been fun to watch for teammate Jeff de Wit. Linemates on the ice and friends off it, de Wit believes what Hagel has done this season and over his career should be celebrated.

“For him, it’s such a huge thing to add to his resume because he’s been here for so long. He’s been a go-to guy for so long,” said de Wit.

“I think it’s huge for him, it’s a huge milestone and an unreal accomplishment for him and we’re all really happy for him.”

Later this year, Hagel will also likely move into third on the all-time goals list, passing Shawn McNeil (91) and Greg Schmidt (94). Hagel has 89 regular season goals in his career and Asham is the all-time leader at 131. Justin Mapletoft had 115 and B.J. Young finished his Rebels career with 112.

He’s scored at an elite pace in 2018-19 with 27 goals in 43 games. That has him among the top players in the WHL, with 0.62 goals-per-game and a 13 per cent shooting percentage.

The leap it seems, has come with a plethora of opportunities.

The Morinville, Alta., native is using his speed to win more races to pucks than he has in the past and that’s translated to more breakaway chances. More than he can remember in any other year.

“It’s fun to score, so when I see a loose puck, I really want it and have that chance to go on a breakaway,” he said.

“I realized at the start of the year how much my speed did progress throughout the offseason. It’s something I take pride and I know that I have that next step.”

On top of converting a lot of those solo drives, he is also using his new-found speed to burn past most defenders in the league on the outside. De Wit has had a front row seat to it on a nightly basis and is still in awe by it.

“From being here when I was 18 till now, it seems like his speed has come a long way,” de Wit said.

“Taking defenders wide – he’s such a threat offensively because they have to play him with a different gap than the rest of us. He’s a gamer and he likes to be that guy that gets the big goal.”

One inefficiency in the game that Hagel has also exploited is when his team is down a man. He has three shorthanded goals this year, more than any other of his four WHL seasons. He said those chances are just a matter of picking the right spot to attack but he’s also learned to have more fun on that side of the game.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but now that I got an opportunity, it brings momentum to the team when you kill off a penalty, even if you score a goal. I take big pride in that and it’s something that everyone should,” he said.

While he has never been the flashiest goal scorer or most dynamic playmaker, he has always been consistent in a Rebels uniform.

It is that steadiness that has him on the verge of team history.

Hagel and the Rebels will host the Medicine Hat Tigers on Friday, then welcome the Prince George Cougars to town on Jan. 26.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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