Why a hard-earned goal meant just a bit more for Chris Wagner

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It’s not very often Chris Wagner’s name rings out during Bruce Cassidy’s starting roll call just prior to puck drop in the Bruins' locker room.

A productive bottom-six stalwart during his five seasons in the NHL, Wagner struggled to think of the last time he earned a starting nod for a matchup up at the pro level.

“Not this league,” Wagner said with a grin. “Definitely not here. Maybe in Anaheim once or twice?”

But regardless of where the physical winger has slotted into the lineup over the years — there was no doubting that his grandfather, Jim Phelan, would always be watching.

A dedicated Boston sports fan and a “Norwood guy, through and through” as described by Wagner, Phelan was always a constant in Wagner's life.

Before his promising hockey talents took him to Colgate University and an eventual path up to the NHL, Wagner recalls the days in which his grandfather would be the one to drive him to early-morning practices — volunteering for the odd-hour shifts when Wagner’s parents were unable to do so.

Even during Wagner’s tenure with the Ducks — with plenty of his games starting around 10:00 p.m. on the East Coast — Phelan kept watch.

And even three days before passing away at the age of 81, Phelan followed along during the Bruins’ matchup in the 2019 Winter Classic — watching his grandson take to the ice at Notre Dame Stadium with the team both he and his family have cherished for years.

Suiting up in the Bruins locker room a day removed from Phelan’s passing, Wagner knew that he’d be playing with a heavy heart against the Sabres on Saturday. But if there was ever a way to honor his grandfather, why not it be on the ice — playing the game that both of them bonded over for years.