MONTREAL - No one understands Steve Begin's rags-to-riches story since arriving in Montreal more than former Flames teammate Marc Savard, who has enjoyed his own puck rebirth since landing in Atlanta.
Only three short years ago, Begin was itching to shed his usual seat in the Pengrowth Saddledome pressbox, while Savard was busy attempting to crawl out of Flames' head coach Greg Gilbert's doghouse. Now each is flourishing in their respective new hockey homes.
"I wasn't playing much at all back then and I remember Marc fighting to keep his ice-time," said Begin. "I always knew he was a talented player and it's great to see Marc finally get the chance to prove what he can do with the Thrashers."
Off to his best-ever start and on pace for a 25-goal season with seven goals in 21 contests, Begin came into 2005-06 with only 21 goals in 175 career games. Savard meanwhile has also exploded since joining the Thrashers, with whom he has averaged over a point-per-game since his 2002 arrival. He also sits among the league leaders with 29 points this season.
"Sometimes, all a player needs is a fresh start," said Begin, who was dealt to Buffalo by Calgary in the summer of 2003, before being picked up on waivers almost immediately by the Canadiens in October. "Being the right fit with an organization can make all the difference."
Savard is just as happy to see Begin finally getting his due.
"That's the great thing about 'Beige', he works so hard and attacks every shift like it's going to be his last," said Savard, who spent parts of four seasons with Begin in Calgary. "It's awesome to finally see him get the credit and ice-time he deserves.
"I remember back in Calgary when we weren't winning all that much and Beige kept getting scratched. I never understood why he wasn't getting the chance to play," admitted Savard. "He's just such an energy guy out there who makes things happen. He probably could have really helped us, the way he's helping the Canadiens right now.
"Although I gotta be honest, I never expected him to put up the kind of offensive numbers he has so far this year. He's probably just as shocked as anyone!" laughed Savard.
Savard's fresh start has seen the 28-year-old Ottawa native put his much-publicized feud with then-Flames' benchboss Gilbert to rest, allowing him to now forge a strong relationship with Thrashers' coach Bob Hartley.
"As soon I got to Atlanta, Bob took me aside and said that he expected big things from me and that I was going to be given the ball and that it was up to me to run with it," said Savard. "It's been great playing for him and I'm just glad I ended up here with the Thrashers. I'm sure Steve feels the same way about now being in Montreal. He's sure playing like it."
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com