On a milestone night for their head coach the Red Deer Rebels took another step toward earning a playoff spot.
The Rebels doubled up the Kootenay Ice 8-4 Saturday night at the Westerner Park Centrium, giving Brent Sutter his 500th WHL regular season coaching victory.
Sutter is the ninth member of the 500-win club.
"To be quite honest, I never even thought about it. I came off the ice and they told me I had to stay and go back out,' he said. "I don't know... I've been around a long time."
The Rebels got on the board first in the opening period with Cameron Hausinger scoring his 19th goal of the season, his 12th since coming to the Rebels from Kootenay last November.
Reese Johnson doubled the lead just 3:10 later with his 23rd of the year.
Brandon Hagel then drew an interference penalty and it took all of 12 seconds for Johnson to blast another one past Ice goalie Jesse Makaj to make it 3-0 Red Deer. Hagel had assists on all three Rebels goals.
Before the period was out, Kootenay cut the Rebels lead to 3-1 with a goal from Nolan Orzeck.
Red Deer once again came out firing in the second period and just 2:14 in, Chase Leslie finally bulged the twine for his first career WHL goal in his 43rd game.
Just shy of three minutes later, it was 5-1 Red Deer as Jeff de Wit netted his 25th of the year.
But Kootenay wasn't going to go quiet into the night. With 12:40 to go in the second period, Kootenay's leading scorer Jaegar White got his 27th to make it 5-2.
Adding to Kootenay's momentum, Alex Morozoff was dinged with a game misconduct and 5-minute major after drilling Valtteri Kakkonen into the boards behind the Ice net. Kootenay made them pay cutting the lead to 5-3 with 3:39 still left on the lengthy man advantage.
However, Red Deer wound up on the powerplay a short time later after a pair of Ice penalties. Shortly after returning to even strength, a Carson Sass shot was redirected by Zak Smith past Makaj for his 12th.
The three-goal lead didn't last long as Jakin Smallwood would make it 6-4 in a game that had quickly turned into a track meet.
Before the second was out, Red Deer recaptured that three-goal cushion with Hagel scoring his 40th of the season. Hagel is the first Rebel since Byron Froese in 2010-11 to score at least 40 goals in a single season.
In the third, things calmed down until late when Josh Tarzwell would score his 10th to make it 8-4.
"I liked our first period, and I liked our third. We didn’t give up much, but the second I didn’t like, I thought we were sloppy," said Sutter. "Once we got up three or four goals there, we got away from our game, and as soon as you start getting bad habits, you know what that leads to. But in the third we were much better."
Johnson, who had two goals and one assist on the night, was on the same page with his coach.
"We had lots of turnovers we didn’t want, and we were kind of loose in the first two periods," he remarked. "Obviously we're not really used to that (many goals) lately, but when we're up like that, we can't let them score four goals. Some of those goals were mistakes that just can't happen this time of year."
The Rebels remain tied with Medicine Hat after Saturday's action, each with 72 points, though Red Deer has a game in hand. Brandon, who lost to Medicine Hat on Saturday, sits four points back of the two wildcard playoff spots held by the Rebels and Tigers.
Next up for the Rebels is a Tuesday night tilt at the Westerner Park Centrium versus Edmonton (7 p.m. on 106.7 THE DRIVE).
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