He’s a sparkplug and the kind of player you love to have. He’s also a player everyone else hates playing against and when the Calgary Flames drafted him 40th overall in 1996, that’s probably exactly what they saw. At 5’11 and 185, he’s not exactly the size that would strike fear into any opponents, but when that compact frame hits you like a freight train, you start to take notice.
At the beginning of the season, a scant few weeks after Bob Gainey had officially taken over the club, after indicating that one thing the Canadiens needed was size and grit, the GM plucked Begin off the waiver wire from the Buffalo Sabres. Rumours abounded in Buffalo later on about why the feisty player had even been on the waiver wire, as in his short time, he’d already become a popular figure.
After being drafted by the Flames, Begin shuttled back and forth between the main squad and their AHL affiliate, for much of his time there. Ostensibly making the team in 2001-02, he still only managed 51 and 50 games in the following two seasons. Obviously, the Flames didn’t feel he was a legitimate part of their future and bundled him up with Chris Drury, receiving Steve Reinprecht and Rhett Warriner in exchange.
Fortunately for the Habs, the Sabres didn’t recognize what they had either, and Montreal’s gain was Buffalo’s significant loss.
Coming off a shoulder injury early this year, it would have been understandable had Begin been somewhat reluctant to make hits or to play the physical style that brought him to the NHL in the first place. However, from his first shift on the ice he served notice that he was ready to play at the highest intensity level, flattening everyone in his path.
As an occasional player in Calgary, Begin had been a fourth and checking line player – more significantly the former. However when Joe Juneau went down with injury, Canadiens coach Claude Julien made the call to give Begin the centre position on the Habs third line. In his short stint there before going down with an aggravation to his shoulder, he brought an all-new energy to the Habs checking role, and in the process woke Niklas Sundstrom up from his early season doldrums. The new third line played with grit and emotion and lost none of its defensive prowess.
In 26 games played with the Canadiens this year, Begin has managed only a single goal and four points, but his statistics are not nearly the measure of this player. Each night he leaves everything he’s got on the ice; he’s never taken a shift off. When he came to the Canadiens, he mentioned the pleasure at playing for his home-province club (he was born in Trois-Rivieres, QC, in 1978), and the satisfaction he got from finally being given a full chance. There’s no doubt he’s taken that opportunity and run with it.
When he does make it back in a few weeks time, Julien is going to have a pleasant problem to deal with: where to put this firecracker in the lineup. He’s gone from being a waiver wire acquisition to a player that’s counted on each night and one that must sleep with a smile on his face at night knowing how far he’s come since the days in Calgary where he wasn’t given much of a chance.
One other who must sleep with some satisfaction is Bob Gainey. Begin from waivers was quite a coup.