After an incredible comeback from hip surgery, Begin earns Masterton nod
Flames veteran wins nomination from Calgary chapter of Professional Hockey Writers’ Association
Nashville, Tenn. — According to Steve Begin, he awoke after hip surgery and immediately looked at his wife, Amelie.
He then declared that he would one day again skate in the National Hockey League.
“Watch me, I’ll play again.”
This, despite months of intense rehabilitation ahead of him.
This, despite not a single nibble from any of the NHL’s 30 clubs.
Nevertheless, Amelie believed her husband.
“She said, ‘I’ll do everything to help you. I know you’ll make it. I know you. I know what you’re capable of. I know you’ll do everything it takes to make it back.’ ”
Months later, with his recovery complete — and, critically, with coach Bob Hartley’s wholehearted backing — Begin arrived at Calgary Flames camp in January. A decided long-shot, he earned a job.
Tuesday, the Calgary chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association named Begin the Flames’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which “is awarded annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication.” Also in the running had been goalie Joey MacDonald, defenceman Cory Sarich, centre Matt Stajan.
But Begin, after being out of the NHL for two years, deserves recognition.
“For me, playing hockey is like a kid going to a candy store,” says the 34-year-old. “You just go out and have fun. That’s what hockey is about. If you like what you’re doing, it makes it easier for you.
“When I thought it was over for me, I was sitting at home watching games. I realized that that’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to play hockey again. I wanted to be around the guys. It’s like a family when you come to the rink.”
No one appreciates this life more than the Trois-Rivieres, Que., native.
The son of a single father on a welfare income, Begin wore second-hand gear as he marched through the ranks. (“It was always a challenge for my dad (Gilles) to find money for me to play hockey or buy sticks, equipment, skates.”) Yet was impossible to dispute the kid’s passion.
“I wasn’t shy to say it — that I’d make it, that I’d play in the NHL,” he says. “I play hockey, not for trophies, not for stars, but just because I love it. At the end of a game, if I know I gave everything I had, I’m happy with myself. The other day (against the Detroit Red Wings), I had two goals — for me, that’s just gravy, that’s just extra.
“Doing what you like doing the most and getting paid for it? You couldn’t ask for anything more.”
In 2009-10, Begin suited up 77 times for the Boston Bruins, then got into 13 playoff contests.
The following season — two games for the Nashville Predators.
The following season — no games after a painful training-camp audition for the Vancouver Canucks.
But that’s not how Begin wanted his NHL career to play out. Hence the surgery. Hence the subsequent bold predictions about his return.
Giving Begin a significant leg up in his comeback had been Hartley.
The coach had initially asked Begin to join him in Switzerland last winter. But already the surgeon had been booked.
However, Hartley kept Begin’s number. And when he found work in Calgary, he called the player, asking him about his recovery.
Replied Begin: “I’m doing very good. I’ve never been in shape like this in the last five, six, seven years. I ready to do anything I can to get a job somewhere.”
Hartley rang him again the day after the NHL draft and said he needed to verify Begin’s fitness. Meaning doing the lines, back-and-forths. So there they were, on a July weekend, at the Laval University rink — Hartley with the stopwatch, Begin with the pressure.
“It turned out pretty well,” says Begin. “He said, ‘You’re in pretty good shape for this time of the year.’ He invited me to camp. If I’m here, yes, (it’s because) I worked hard . . . but he gave me the chance, the guys in Calgary gave me the chance.
“That’s how it was. (Otherwise) I wouldn’t be here talking to you.”
Follow Scott Cruickshank on Twitter/CruickshankCH
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