Walpole’s Wagner realizing dream in Bruins home debut

Matt Kalman
October 07, 2018 - 6:13 pm

Brian Babineau/Boston Bruins

Days leading up to what will be his home debut with the Bruins, Walpole native Chris Wagner contemplated a question about what the fan reaction will be like.

His parents, Paul and Cindy, and his brother Paul will definitely be there. There will probably be cousins, long-lost relatives and former classmates and teammates at TD Garden as well Monday against the for the game against the Ottawa Senators.

They’ll all be supporting him, but there will also be plenty of former classmates and teammates, probably lathered up a touch, that’ll let loose with a quip about beating him in a battle while playing squirts or some other absurd memory that makes a weekend warrior believe he missed a NHL career by a smidge.

“I’m sure plenty of people are going to tell me I suck and all that, and how they were probably better than me at the time,” Wagner admitted to WEEI.com. “But they’re not here and I am – so not to take anything away from anyone – I’ve just worked hard and earned it. I don’t think anything was ever given to me. For my seven-year career I’ve been up and down and moving around, so to be here it’s pretty special for me and my family.”

Wagner, 27, signed with the Bruins as an unrestricted free agent on July 1, inking a two-year deal worth $1.25 million per season. Right away he embraced the idea of coming home after bouncing around with Anaheim, Colorado and the New York Islanders, and going up and down from the AHL to the NHL.

“Once the deal came to fruition, it’s obviously a no-brainer. I’m not scared to play here,” Wagner said. “Like some guys say they don’t want to play in their hometown, but they probably haven’t had the chance to play in their hometown. So it was definitely an easy decision once it came.”

The ticket requests are sure to roll in, but his friends and family “know not to bug me; I’ve laid that out pretty clearly.” That’s where his father Paul will come in, diverting the distractions that could make playing in the NHL at home uncomfortable.

“I said I’ll be the filter. Just say ‘call my father,’” Paul explained to WEEI.com with a laugh. “That’s the last thing I want him to deal with. As I try to explain to people, he’s got a job to do just like everyone else does. And no one’s asking you for tickets to go watch you do your job.”

Fan favorite possibilities

Stardom on the hometown stage has eluded the majority of New Englanders who’ve played for the Bruins, most recently Jimmy Hayes in the Dorchester, Mass. native’s disappointing stint on Causeway Street. But Wagner has joined a Bruins roster with three other players from the region – Noel Acciari (Johnston, R.I.), Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown, Mass.) and Ryan Donato (Dedham, Mass.) – who have weathered the hometown pressures and seem to be working out, albeit early in their NHL careers.

Wagner brings with him an approach to the game that’s already been established at the NHL level, and it’s the type of game that should make the Garden faithful embrace him. He’s all about playing straight-line, physical, hard-working hockey.

“It was more what I had to do to get here. I’ve played that way when I was little too, you can ask Noelie about that,” Wagner said.

Acciari, another straight-line player who was linemates with Wagner on the South Shore Kings as teenagers, remembers young Wagner well.

“[He was] definitely a little wrecking ball,” Acciari recalled.

Wagner never made any Mass Select teams. He was drafted in the fifth round (No. 122) by Anaheim in 2010, his second year of eligibility, and played two years at Colgate, the only school that offered him a chance. He then played more than 100 AHL games before he cracked the NHL.

Now he’s played in 175 NHL games, accumulating 29 points (17 goals, 12 assists) along the way.

Bruins fans like their bottom-six forwards to be blue-collar, and Wagner certainly fits the bill.

Garden dreams

Paul Wagner remembers taking Chris to his first Bruins game.

Courtesy Wagner family
“He was 2 ½, maybe 3, they played the Capitals and it was at the old Garden, it was the last season,” Paul recalled. “So I was like ‘I’ve got to get you in there.’ Which he doesn’t know what it is, but you’re 2 ½, you got to get in there and see this place even though you won’t remember.”

Throughout his childhood the younger Wagner estimates he went to five or 10 games a year. Even as he broke into the NHL, his buddies were all Bruins fans, so he always knew how they were doing.

Although he played in a preseason game at TD Garden, Monday will be for keeps. He played in the Bruins’ season-opener in Washington on Wednesday, but Monday’s game will be under the banners, and he’ll get to hear Jim Martin announce his name during the pregame introductions.

“I’ve talked about it a lot, and I just kind of want to get it going,” Wagner said.

Paul found it difficult to put into words what it will be like to see his son wear the sweater of the team the father has cheered on since 1969 on the hometown ice.

“It’s almost unexplainable to see a kid chase a dream for the better part of 20 years and have a chance to see that through in his hometown, for the city and team he’s cheered for since he could walk,” Paul said.

Everything is in place for Wagner to succeed with the Bruins. He has the right support system and distraction filter set up. He has the right style of play. And he has a multi-year contract. His attempt to write a triumphant homecoming story starts Monday.

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