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Wagner Finding A Home

Walpole native having career year as staple on Bruins fourth line

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins /

BOSTON - As he glided into the faceoff circle to begin overtime on Tuesday night, Chris Wagner couldn't help but take a few seconds to reflect.

He was deployed for the opening draw along with John Moore and fellow Massachusetts native Charlie Coyle, with whom he has been friends since their teenage days, when both suited up for the South Shore Kings.

The moment, while fleeting, prompted those memories to come flooding back.

"Starting overtime with him - I was thinking about it going to the face-off, saying we used to do this together back in the day," Wagner said of his longtime buddy, who was acquired from Minnesota at the trade deadline. "It's been awesome seeing his parents in the parents' room, too. We've been good friends ever since we were 16 or 17. He helped me get drafted…it's been cool."

Video: Wagner notches career-high 10th goal of season

For the Walpole native, his entire first season with the Bruins has been quite the ride.

Wagner signed a two-year deal with his hometown team on July 1, and even he admits that he couldn't have foreseen the success he's achieved to this point. With his goal in Boston's 4-3 win over Carolina, the 27-year-old reached double digits for the first time, his 10th tally of the season building on his career high set last month.

"I mean the team is unbelievable," said Wagner, who is now well past his previous high of seven goals set last season between the Ducks and Islanders. "Obviously, I'm from here…I love the city through and through. Ten goals, I don't know if I could've ever dreamt of that when I was 16 playing at Xaverian [High School in Westwood]. It's pretty crazy."

Coach Bruce Cassidy doesn't think it's that crazy at all. Boston's bench boss believed with a bit more opportunity, the winger - who finished third in the NHL in hits last season - could bring a little offensive pop to the Bruins' bottom six.

"We figured he could get to 10, 12 goals if he played 13, 14, 15 minutes," said Cassidy, who has utilized Wagner for an average of just over 13 minutes per game. "Doesn't mean he's going to do it, but we hoped he would with a little more opportunity. And he's taken advantage of it."

Much of Wagner's success has come alongside Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari - another of his former South Shore Kings teammates - forming a dependable and entertaining fourth-line unit that Cassidy has relied on in almost every situation.

"We saw that last year with our fourth line [of Acciari, Kuraly, and Tim Schaller]," said Cassidy. "We're going to give them minutes, and they're going to play if they can accept the assignment. It's a lot of grunt work, a lot of faceoffs in your own end, get the puck down to the other end, get yanked off so the more offensive guys come out.

"You're playing against top players, asked to block shots, but they've really gravitated like our guys did last year. They're doing it again this year. Noel, Kuraly, [Joakim Nordstrom], and Wags have been probably the four guys that have played most in that role, and they've done a nice job."

They certainly did their job against the Hurricanes, jumpstarting the Bruins' comeback midway through the second period. Wagner picked up his 10th of the year when he banged home a rebound off of Brandon Carlo's wrister from the point to cut Boston's deficit to 2-1.

"I think we started getting more pucks behind them," said Wagner, who was parked at the top of the crease. "And they kind of had to start backing off and we could create more offense. So, once that one went in, I kind of felt as if we were going to get a couple more. And we ended up doing that."

Video: CAR@BOS: Wagner cleans up rebound on the doorstep

The Bruins scored three straight goals, before Carolina forced overtime with a tying goal by Justin Williams midway through the third. David Krejci eventually notched the winner with 1:46 gone in overtime to send Boston to its 11th win in 12 games.

But it was the work of Wagner and Boston's fourth line that once again provided the spark.

"It broke the ice," said Cassidy. "I just think [Wagner] goes to the net lots. He's willing to get there. You watch him in practice, and he's got a decent shot, willing to go to the net…I find that the guys that are willing to get there in this league, and if you play enough, you have a decent shot, you're going to get rewarded."

Wagner has provided plenty of reward for the Bruins during his first season in Black & Gold. And for the hometown kid, that's something to cherish.

"I try to take it in as much as possible," said Wagner. "I try to go home [to Walpole]. My parents come to every game. My brother comes to most every game…I try to make a point to go see them first [after the games].

"[There are] a bunch of other perks too. It's pretty cool. You don't know if it's ever going to set in and how cool it is until probably it's over…but, yeah, I'm enjoying it right now."

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