|Steve Bégin accepts the AHL MVP trophy after the Saint John Flames won the Calder Cup in 2001.
CALGARY, AB -- In 2001, when Steve Bégin led the Saint John Flames to a Calder Cup and captured the AHL MVP
trophy, Bob Hartley saw a photo that he feels epitomizes the gritty forward.
Both eyes blackened, cuts scattered across his face and a smile that reached his eyes, the picture showed Bégin - who was Saint John's captain - hoisting the trophy after scoring 10 goals and 17 points in 19 AHL postseason games.
"That's who Steve Bégin is," the Flames bench boss summarized. "He's going to take a shot, he's going to drive to the net, he's going to forecheck, he applies himself.
"Every day, you can count on him because he's a true soldier."
Now 34, the well-traveled Bégin is set to play his 500th NHL game tonight against the Phoenix Coyotes. In 499 outings, he has scored 53 goals and 101 points, has racked up 549 penalty minutes and has fired 700 shots on net.
Bégin has spent time with the Flames, Canadiens, Stars, Bruins and Predators in his career in addition to stops in Saint John, Hamilton and Milwaukee in the AHL. It's been a long journey and Hartley couldn't be any happier for the Trois-Rivieres, QC native.
"I'm a big supporter of Steve Bégin. There is not enough guys like him in this league ... he's all about the team."
Hartley has kept an eye on Bégin's career since his time in with the Val-D'Or Foreurs (QMJHL) in the early 90's and always appreciated the tenacity he brought to each and every game. When the Flames drafted him in the second round (40th overall) of the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, Hartley monitored his progress in Saint John. At the time, Hartley was coaching the Hershey Bears (AHL) so he witnessed first-hand what he brought to a team's lineup.
When the Flames brought Bégin into the fold full-time in 2001-02 season, Hartley was coaching the Colorado Avalanche so he saw the forward on a regular basis. During his tenure with the Zurich Lions, Hartley wanted to add Bégin to his roster but the forward was unable to join the team due to impending hip surgery.
"To bring a quality grinder, an exceptional team leader, I felt we would improve our chances. I called him two days before he was going for hip surgery. I had the same hip surgery so I knew Steve was hurting and he told me, 'I'm going to cancel my surgery. I want to play.' I said ... just go for your surgery and maybe our roads will cross again."
Their paths would cross again last summer when Hartley asked the forward to meet him at a Montreal rink to see how his hip had responded to the surgery. Armed with a stopwatch and a plethora of skating drills, Hartley put Bégin through the paces.
"I was very pleasantly surprised so I called Jay (Feaster) and I said that we have a good candidate to bring in on a tryout. He is in unbelievable shape and that's part of the reason why he's here."
The Flames signed Bégin to a one-year, two-way deal on Jan. 18. He has suited up for 11 games this season and scored his first goal of the year on Feb. 17 in a 4-3 win in Dallas.
"Steve worked very hard during camp and demonstrated that he is an effective player killing penalties, making life difficult for opposing players and providing a spark and positive energy when needed," Flames general manager Jay Feaster said in regards to the signing. "The fact that he’s returning home to our organization makes the story even better."