Bégin: Scoring machine to defensive specialist

 

 
 
 
 
Montreal's Steve Begin just had to grin and bear it. Penalties and a hot Buffalo power play cost the Habs a win on Friday night. The two teams meet again on Saturday.
 

Montreal's Steve Begin just had to grin and bear it. Penalties and a hot Buffalo power play cost the Habs a win on Friday night. The two teams meet again on Saturday.

Photograph by: Dave Sandford/Getty Images, National Post

Steve Bégin laughs when he’s asked about his minor hockey career.

“It’s hard to believe, but I was a goal-scorer,” said Bégin, who has made a living in the National Hockey League as a gritty defensive forward. “I loved playing with pucks, stickhandling, I was doing a lot of coast-to-coasts, believe it or not.”

But Bégin said the transformation from scoring machine to defensive specialist began at a young age because his father, Gilles, provided him with some uncommon role models. While many young players have been brought up to idolize Guy Lafleur or Wayne Gretzky, Bégin’s father taught him to appreciate the skills of players like Mario Tremblay, Bob Gainey and Guy Carbonneau.

“I grew up in Trois-Rivières, and everybody back then, all the other parents, were saying that I was too small to make it to the next level,” Bégin recalled. “My dad liked Mario Tremblay and all those guys who were playing that kind of hockey, hard-working players. He started mentioning to me all those names and he said: ‘If you want to make it in the NHL, you have to play that kind of game,’ and playing in the NHL was always my dream.”

That work ethic has served the 30-year-old Bégin well in his NHL career. He has played more than 350 games, including 245 as a Canadien. He would have played more if it weren’t for his aggressive style.

“When you play the way I do, you’re going to have injuries,” said Bégin, whose availability has been limited the past two seasons because of back, shoulder and groin injuries. “If you hit people, go in the corner, block shots, you’re going to pay the price. But it’s all fun. That’s the way I play and I’m never going to change.”

He started the current season as an insurance policy, a veteran player who could be plugged into the lineup if there were injuries or if there was a hiccup in the team’s vaunted youth movement.

He has been seeing more ice time recently because coach Guy Carbonneau is impressed with the hard work of Bégin and linemates Maxim Lapierre and Tom Kostopoulos. As the Canadiens’ power play continued to sputter, Carbonneau even turned to this line to provide a spark.

“We didn’t know what we were doing,” Kostopoulos said. “We hadn’t practised the power play, but we did what we always do, fight hard for the puck and go to the net.”

sss

Bégin had a relatively late start in hockey.

“I started playing when I was 6 years old,” he said. “During the summer, my dad was playing softball and he had a friend whose two sons were playing hockey. He asked me if I wanted to play with them and I said yes. I started skating and I just fell in love with it.

“Since then, I’ve always been playing, outdoors, indoors. I just love the game.”

Bégin the goal-scorer morphed into Bégin the enforcer when he started playing junior hockey with the Val d’Or Foreurs. He scored only 13 goals in his first season, but had an eye-catching 218 penalty minutes. The eyes they caught were those of the Calgary Flames scouts, who thought enough of Bégin to select him in the second round (40th overall) at the 1996 entry draft.

He followed up his rookie season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with another 13-goal performance, but his time in the penalty box increased to 229 minutes. The Flames figured he was ready for a shot at the big time.

When the Flames’ training camp ended in 1997, Bégin won a temporary spot on the roster.

“I remember my first NHL game,” he said. “It was against Detroit. I was 19 years old and I had made the big team and I stuck around for a month before they sent me back to junior. We were losing all the time and they said they wanted me to be in a winning atmosphere and they sent me back to junior.

Bégin played only five games with the Flames before being sent back to junior, but described the experience as “awesome.”

“I played against Detroit and Colorado in my first two games,” he recalled. “It was a great experience. I was playing with Darren McCarty and Mike Peluso, two tough guys. It was quite an experience. It was disappointing when I got sent down. You want to stick around, that’s your dream. But when you’re 19, you know nothing. You just say ‘wow’. But you sit back and say: ‘I’m still young and I have plenty of time to make it.’ ”

It was another four years before Bégin found regular employment in the NHL, but he had some success at other levels along the way. He played at the world junior championship, helped Val d’Or to a QMJHL title and a berth in the Memorial Cup, and was named the most outstanding player in the 2001 Calder Cup playoffs, leading the Saint John Flames to the American Hockey League title.

“In the life of a hockey player, there are lots of ups and downs and you have to find a way to get back when you go down on your knees,” he said. “There have been a few hard times, especially in the minors when you’re wondering if they’re going to call you up. You see other guys getting called up and you think: ‘I’m playing good. I’m doing better than this guy and why didn’t they call me?’ But you have to keep believing. But good things happen when you work hard and believe in what you want.”

sss

The Flames traded Bégin to Buffalo in the spring of 2003, but he never played a game for the Sabres. He was caught in the numbers game, and when Buffalo tried to sneak him through waivers he was claimed by the Canadiens.

Bégin embraced the chance to come home.

“Playing for the Canadiens is special and even more so for a Quebecer,” he said.

Bégin and his family settled in Blainville, but recently moved to Brossard to be closer to the team’s new practice facility. It’s a move that was welcomed by his wife, Amélie, and their two young daughters.

“She’s from Val d’Or, but she has a lot of friends who live on the South Shore so it was a very easy move for us,” Bégin said. “We have a nice house and we’re in a great neighbourhood for kids.”

Bégin hopes he’ll be staying put for a while. He’s in the final year of his contract, and while he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer, his preference is to remain in Montreal.

“But it’s not something I think about,” he said. “I just concentrate on each game, doing my job and playing as hard as I can.”

That’s what got him here, and he’s hoping that’s what will keep him here.

phickey@thegazette.canwest.com

 
 
 
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Montreal's Steve Begin just had to grin and bear it. Penalties and a hot Buffalo power play cost the Habs a win on Friday night. The two teams meet again on Saturday.
 

Montreal's Steve Begin just had to grin and bear it. Penalties and a hot Buffalo power play cost the Habs a win on Friday night. The two teams meet again on Saturday.

Photograph by: Dave Sandford/Getty Images, National Post

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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