Heart-and-soul Flames forward Begin relishes turn as a goal-scoring hero
Gritty veteran more known for his pain tolerance than scoring, but he popped two against Detroit
Two goals in the third period? Including the game-winner?
Those are the moments that delight him.
But he never overlooks the moments that define him.
Such as racing across the ice to paste Brendan Smith into the sideboards — a collision that knocks the wind out of the perpetrator.
Such as stepping in front of Niklas Kronwall’s power-play slapshot — a scorcher that hammers into the knuckles of his right hand.
Wincing, grimacing, this is the bent-nosed game face of Steve Begin. Hunched over on the bench, soothing the throb of the latest jolt. Concerned trainer leaning over for a word.
“Pain is part of the game,” the Calgary Flames’ toughie says the morning after the 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings. “I remember this summer somebody asking me, ‘What do you miss the most about the game?’ And I said, ‘Pain.’ Blocking shots and stuff like that . . . it’s always been fun. I enjoy it.”
But imagine life as an offensive dynamo?
“Well, it’s probably fun,” says Begin, chuckling. “It should be great being a goal-scorer, but I’ve had a blast doing this, playing the way I play.”
Through 524 NHL appearances, Begin has collected 56 goals.
Contusions, though, are harder to track, especially as they overlap.
On Thursday morning, Begin doesn’t practise, opting instead for treatment of an unspecified wound. From there, he’s off to the dentist.
Just another day.
Last week against Vancouver, he handled exactly 17 seconds of ice time before a teammate rifled the puck into the back of his head, raising a golf-ball-sized lump behind his right ear. He never missed a game.
Begin knew what he was getting into in January — he earned a contract, suited up for the season opener, promptly had a slapper sizzled off his foot.
Welcome back to the NHL.
“Exactly,” laughs the 34-year-old. “My friends, they all called me after and said, ‘Well, you were talking about pain. How was that one?’ ”
Adds coach Bob Hartley: “Beige has played his entire career with pain. You just have to look at the (2001) Calder Cup picture in Saint John — lifting the cup and his face is all smashed up. That’s the kind of guy you want in an organization.”
Which would come as good news to Begin, who is eager to keep his bruises fresh. He insists that he has one, two, even three more years of toil in his 195-pound carcass.
In his corner, publicly, is Hartley.
“Players with the commitment of Steve Begin, I really believe that there’s not enough (of them) in the NHL,” says Hartley. “I always admired the way that he played. I look at the spirit, the leadership. Pretty amazing what he’s done for us.”
In addition to on-ice contributions, the Trois-Rivieres, Que., native knows what he can offer a squad in the midst of a teardown, with newbies arriving on a regular basis.
Begin recalls landing in Calgary — back in 1997 — as a wide-eyed junior. He assumed the training-camp axe would fall — it didn’t. So here was Begin, 19 and out of his element. Joel Bouchard did his best to make him comfortable — or at least presentable.
“I had no suit, no tie, no shirt, nothing,” Begin, grinning, says. “Then, when I signed my deal, Joel brought me to the mall and said, ‘Just pay me when you get your first paycheque.’ I always tell that story. I think it’s quite funny — me as a kid coming here. You don’t know anything and you’re so excited. And Joel was there for me.”
Paying it forward, Begin is a tenderfoot’s best friend.
“I talk to them a lot, make sure they’re OK. Right now, I’m trying to help them, even if they might take my spot.”
Which is the cycle of pro sports, grooming the one who is destined to force you out.
No matter. Begin continues onward, riding a career that has always been day to day.
“Pretty much the story of my life,” he says. “Every year it was, ‘Is he going to make the team? Is he going to stick around?’ Right now, I want to play every game and enjoy every moment, without knowing what’s going to happen next year. I want to play every game like it’s my last game. It’s been like this the whole year.”
Follow Scott Cruickshank on Twitter/CruickshankCH
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