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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
Last time we checked in on Anaheim Ducks forward and Walpole native Chris Wagner, he had just signed a two-year contract with the team and was bouncing around from the big club in Anaheim and the franchise’s AHL affiliate, the San Diego Gulls. This past week, however, Wagner got the nod from head coach Randy Carlisle and played in all four of Anaheim’s first-round Stanley Cup Playoff games against the Calgary Flames. The Ducks were able to win each of the games, extinguishing the Flames and completing the sweep to move on to the Western Conference Semifinals against the Edmonton Oilers.
Unlike a lot of other sports, hockey is game where every single player on the roster serves a role that is essential to winning, especially come playoff time. Some guys (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Rickard Rakell) are counted on for their scoring. Others (Andrew Cogliano, Jakub Silfverberg) are relied on for their speed and abilities to make plays. Meanwhile, players such as Ryan Kesler and Nick Ritchie are counted on for their roles as energy players who love to get nasty, play physically in the corners, and get under the opposition’s skin.
Throughout Anaheim’s first-round sweep of the Flames, a team which the Ducks outmatched significantly in the size department, Wagner was a force and fit in perfectly to his role as an energy player, averaging 10:16 of ice time per game on Anaheim’s fourth line alongside Logan Shaw and Nate Thompson (two goals, two assists). While the Xaverian and Colgate University product was unable to notch his first-ever playoff point throughout the two games at the Honda Center or the two up in Calgary, he was able to generate five shots on net, two PIM, three blocked shots, and seven hits.With the Ducks being without two of their top-four blue-liners in Sami Vatanen and Cam Fowler due to injury in the first round, the efforts of Wagner and the rest of the Duck forwards in the defensive end proved to be deciding factors in the series. A young and depleted group of Anaheim defensemen were complemented by an experienced, rugged, and defensively stout group of forwards. This allowed the Ducks to win more battles for loose pucks in their own end, lock down the front of their net, and stay crisp on breakouts, all despite being without two of their key puck-moving two-way defense-men and facing an opposition as offensively lethal as the Calgary Flames (Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, etc). Sources close to the team say that Cam Fowler is already back practicing in full and should be ready to go for game one of the second round on April 26.
Wagner says that Anaheim’s ability to get out of the quarterfinal round in just four games could play a big role in their upcoming series against Edmonton.
“Obviously, it was nice to get that sweep,” said Wagner. “We got a couple of guys on our back end banged up but the extra down time should allow us to get healthy and be ready to go for game one.”
Wagner also says that he and his teammates are aware of the talent present on the Edmonton Oilers, specifically in 2015 No. 1 overall pick, Connor McDavid, but also in former Boston Bruin and Los Angeles King Milan Lucic. The offensive threats of the Oilers also include an old friend of Wagner’s from his AHL days in Patrick Maroon.
Wagner emphasizes that it is going to take a complete effort for the Ducks to get the job done in round two.
“I played with (Patrick) Maroon in Norfolk [Virginia, AHL] and we kept in contact, so we definitely know how each other plays,” said Wagner. “We’re really focused on game one and we know it’s going to be a tough series. They got [Connor] McDavid, and he’s easily a top-three player in the world. We’re going to need guys like Kes’ [Ryan Kesler] to wear them down physically.”
The obvious goal for Chris Wagner this spring is to bring the Stanley Cup back to Walpole, but the 26-year-old says that he is just focused on doing whatever he can to help the team win, one game at a time, and hopefully, collect his first ever Stanley Cup Playoff goal along the way.
“I just want to help out and contribute in any way I can, whether it’s with hits, blocking shots, or whatever,” said Wagner. “Getting that first playoff goal would be pretty sweet, so that’s definitely a personal goal for this series.”
With the way the Anaheim Ducks are rolling right now, one should definitely expect Chris Wagner to keep receiving some key minutes on Anaheim’s fourth line as play continues to increase in both intensity and physicality the deeper we move into these 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
This is the time of year when history is made and legacies are born in the hockey world, so don’t be surprised if and when you see Chris Wagner’s name floating around.
For those in Walpole who are big hockey fans and don’t mind staying up a little late to watch games out on the West Coast, the Ducks will begin their second-round date with the Edmonton Oilers on April 26 before game two on Friday night, April 28.