Reese Johnson was the third star in a 4-1 win over the Calgary Hitmen Sunday. (File Photo)

Rebels close out weekend with decisive win over Hitmen

Move into second in the central division

Rebels 4, Hitmen 1

The Red Deer Rebels finished three games in three nights with a bang.

Red Deer burst of the gate early on the road in Calgary and cruised to a 4-1 victory over the Hitmen in front of 7,017 fans at the Saddledome.

“Real good effort, playing our third game in three days. I thought our guys came out really hard and we had good pace to our game,” said Rebels assistant coach Ryan Colville.

The victory came after a 2-1 loss to the Lethbridge Hurricanes Saturday in Red Deer.

Even bigger for Red Deer, they were able to pick up two points missing key contributors as Alex Alexeyev and Jeff de Wit who missed the game with minor injuries.

With the win, the Rebels moved back into second in the Central Division with a 27-14-2-1 record and 57 points. They are one point up on both the Medicine Hat Tigers and Lethbridge Hurricanes with games in hand. Red Deer is also just a point back of the Edmonton Oil Kings for first in the division with three games in hand.

Red Deer set the tone early in the contest Sunday when Brandon Hagel broke through shorthanded just under two minutes in.

Hagel was caught with a high stick on a partial breakaway, but faked a shot and slid a backhand past Jack McNaughton for his 27th goal of the year.

“Huge goal to get things rolling. We give him a little bit of freedom to push the pace up ice on the PK. That shorthanded goal got things going,” Colville said.

The goal was the Rebels 10th shorthanded tally of the season and Hagel’s third of the year. With the goal, Hagel is also just three back of Shawn McNeil for fifth on the franchise all-time goal-scoring list.

After Red Deer missed on a pair of power plays, they took advantage another Hitmen miscue five-on-five.

Brett Davis picked off a clearing attempt and Alex Morozoff quickly notched his eighth of the year late in the first.

Just under two minutes into the second, on a three-on-one after a bad Hitmen turnover, Arshdeep Bains buried his fourth of the season.

That goal was his first since he found the mark Nov. 24, a stretch of 15 games. Hagel assisted on the goal for 70th point of the season. It was also his 158th career WHL assist and 43rd of the year. That leaves him just four shy of Arron Asham for the all-time franchise lead.

The two-point night from Hagel was key with the Rebels missing a pair of veterans and Colville noted along with the alternate captain, many of their veteran players stepped up.

“When you don’t have a couple of your best players, especially when it’s your third game in three nights, you need your best players to be your best players. I thought our older guys were good, led by Hags,” Colville said of Hagel, who has 15 points in seven games this season against the Hitmen.

“He definitely always leads the way offensively, but he sets the pace of the game a lot for us and keeps guys engaged. Shows the younger guys how fast you have to play and how hard you have to play.”

Calgary struck shorthanded and cut the deficit to a pair of goals, just short of the ten-minute mark in the second.

Another veteran leader refused to let that momentum grow, as Carson Sass found the mark with a wrist shot past McNaughton five minutes later to restore the three-goal advantage.

Byron Fancy earned his fifth win with 23 saves on the night. He had a quiet opening 40 minutes but stopped all 14 shots he faced in the third to close the door on the Hitmen.

Brandon Hagel (1), Hunter Campbell (2) and Reese Johnson (3) were the three stars on the night. Next up for the Rebels is a home date with the Medicine Hat Tigers Jan. 25.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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