By Ryan McCracken on January 2, 2018.
The Medicine Hat Tigers etched their coach’s name into franchise history on Saturday night at the Canalta Centre.
Mark Rassell scored with 19 seconds left in overtime to secure a 4-3 victory over the Red Deer Rebels and push head coach Shaun Clouston to his franchise-best 324th win behind Medicine Hat’s bench in dramatic fashion.
“It was a big win. It was a hard-fought win,” said Clouston. “I thought we played very well and Rassell scored a big one for us. It was really exciting.”
The win puts Clouston’s all-time coaching record with the Tigers at 324-201-34, one win ahead of former bench boss Willie Desjardins’ 323-176-60 in the exact same number of games.
“I learned a ton from him,” said Clouston, who spent seven years as an assistant and associate coach under Desjardins. “I wouldn’t be here without spending those seven years together. It’s a bit surprising, I think, it’s a little bit hard to believe right now to be honest. I was here for a lot of Willie’s wins and I think it just makes me realize how luck I’ve been to be in one spot and to be part of such a great organization for such a long period of time.”
Heading into the contest, Rassell said he hoped a victory would put a smile on his serious coach’s face. After picking up the win, Rassell says the team made sure to bestow the team’s coveted boxing robe upon Clouston for achieving the career feat.
“In our big robe presentation at the end, Quenneville turned around and gave Clouston one of our glorious robes for breaking that record,” said Rassell. “We got a big smile out of him and he was pretty pumped. It was obviously exciting to get that win for him in overtime, hopefully he enjoyed that one.”
While the Tigers put themselves in early penalty trouble after giving up the game’s first two power plays, Gary Haden broke through shorthanded to give Medicine Hat a 1-0 lead for the first time since Dec. 6 — a 5-4 shootout win over the Raiders in Prince Albert.
“It’s always huge. You come out hard and you want to have a great start,” said Haden, adding it was special to help collected a milestone win for his coach. “We knew it was on the line, especially when the game went to overtime. We really wanted to do it at home in front of a home crowd where he’s won quite a few games.”
Rebels rookie River Fahey followed it up with a highlight reel deke to knot the game up with the first goal of his career, but Rassell quickly responded in kind to give the Tabbies an edge at the break.
The 20-year-old Tigers captain opted to shoot on a 2-on-1 and beat Rebels goaltender Ethan Anders for his 30th goal of the season. Rassell reached the 30-goal plateau on Feb. 25 last season before closing out the year with a team-high 36 goals. He’s now on pace to surpass the 50-goal mark after scoring 31 in just 37 games.
“I didn’t know it took me that long last year, but it’s very exciting to hit that 30 goals,” said Rassell. “Hopefully I can keep adding on and have a great season for this team.”
While Anders settled into his crease and kept the paddle down for the better part of the second period, Tyler Preziuso finally managed to solve the 17-year-old netminder with a top-corner snipe in the final minute of the middle frame.
But the Rebels pushed right back early in the third period with another career first, this time from Arshdeep Bains.
The 16-year-old Surrey product was credited with the milestone after jumping into the slot and poking a loose puck past Tigers goaltender Michael Bullion. The goal brought life to the Rebel bench and pushed the Tigers back onto their heels, opening the door for Mason McCarty to draw even with just less than three minutes left in regulation.
“The third period was good. We got a good push on and got our legs after chasing in the second period. We weren’t physical enough in shutting them down,” said Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt. “To have that response in the third period was good, but if you take a look at what we did wrong there were a lot of turnovers, and against a team like this you can’t turn it over.”
Despite the late push, Rassell stole away the momentum and secured the win in the final minute of overtime by forcing a turnover in the Rebels end and beating Riley Lamb up high for his 31st of the year.
Bullion turned aside 23 pucks to lock up his eighth win between the pipes and push the Tigers to 20-15-2-0 on the year. Lamb settled for the loss after entering in relief of Alders to start the third and stopping 16 shots. Alders finished with 23 saves. The loss puts Red Deer at 10-19-5-2.
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