Brandon Hagel got a jump start on carrying the load for the Red Deer Rebels on Saturday night against the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Hagel was an offensive machine for the Rebels in a dominant 6-1 win against the visiting Wheat Kings, earning first star honours after scoring two goals and adding a fight for good measure. The two tallies tied him for the team lead at 16 with Michael Spacek.
The Buffalo Sabres’ sixth round pick will be relied on heavily in the coming month with captain Adam Musil and team points leader Spacek leaving for the World Junior Championships in Toronto and Montreal.
The Rebels alternate captain is ready for the role.
“Obviously, it’s nice to be that guy,” Hagel said about stepping up as the team’s leading point getter in Spacek’s absence. “There’s going to be lots of opportunities for the younger guys to step up and fill his role. I don’t think we have a problem with those two going, I think we’ll be good with them out.”
The home side took advantage of a tired Wheat Kings squad by scoring four goals in the first period, a momentum zapper for the visitors, who were playing their final game of a seven game road trip that took them across B.C. and Alberta. Rebels GM and head coach Brent Sutter said it was key to jump on the road-weary squad early.
“We played hard, we executed some things well tonight. Our compete level was good. We knew we were playing a team that has a long road trip,” he said. “It was important for us to have a good first period and get a jump and I thought our push in the second, we killed some key penalties off at certain times which was significant because you don’t want to give a team like that… any life. We had to make sure we kept it tight.”
The Rebels first goal of the night was a backhand pass off a cycle by Musil that went cross-crease to set up Evan Polei who went high glove to finish it. Less than a minute later, Hagel finished a give-and-go with Spacek to quickly give the Rebels a 2-0 lead at 7:24 of the first period.
At 13:58 of the first, the Rebels finally got a goal on the power play after going scoreless in their last 14 chances. Alexander Alexeyev threaded the needle on a slick pass across the ice to Spacek who made no mistake on his 16th goal of the season. Spacek finished the night with three points and has 42 in 30 games as he heads off to the World Juniors.
Caiden Daley scored his first goal of the season for the Wheat Kings at 17:01 on a tipped shot from the point by James Shearer.
The Rebels fourth goal of the first came on a Jared Freadrich seeing-eye point shot at 18:24.
Hagel’s second of the night was on the power play after he tipped the puck past Wheat Kings goalie Jordan Papirny, but hit the post and the puck sat in the crease until Hagel tapped it in.
After going goalless in their last 14 power play opportunities, the Rebels cashed in on two of eight chances Saturday.
“We moved the puck, we scored a big goal on it at certain times. We have to keep working on it,” Sutter said.
Brandon Cutler also scored his first Western Hockey League goal in the third period after a great pass from Austin Pratt who quietly chipped in two assists on the night.
Lasse Petersen wasn’t extremely busy, but made 22 saves for his eighth win of the year and fourth in his last six outings.
Lethbridge also held on to second place in the Central Division with a win of their own Saturday.
The Rebels will turn around quickly with a Tuesday night home contest against the Kamloops Blazers. Puck drop goes at 7 p.m. at the Centrium.