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You watch him fly around the ice, during games and practices, and you wonder if Boston Bruins forward Steve Begin wakes up on the wrong side of the bed every day.
Then you meet the soft-spoken Quebec native off the ice and realize he's a polite family man with a sense of humor. But that doesn't stop the question from popping up every time he makes the glass at TD Garden shake with a thunderous hit: What makes Begin so nasty?
"All my life, I've heard people tell me, 'No, you're too small. You can't make it to the next step, the next level,' stuff like that," the 6-foot, 193-pound Begin said. "My dad was always telling me to work hard and to keep with it. He was always giving me examples of players that work hard, leadership guys, like [Dale] Hunter and those guys."
Begin's father, Gilles, did more than just pass on verbal advice. He showed Begin firsthand what hard work is all about -- first by raising Begin and his two siblings all by himself (Begin's parents divorced when he was young) and second by taking his young son out on jobs with his landscaping business. Begin said he started helping his father out when he was about 6.
"When it's plus-30, 35 Celsius [86 to 95 Fahrenheit], you're out there with your shovel digging holes. You can't get the big truck there to dig the hole, so you go in there with the wheelbarrow. So that was a hard part," he recalled.
Begin figures he started playing the role of a grinder when he was about 11 or 12, blocking shots and checking with all his strength. Fueled by a mix of his desire to disprove naysayers and his natural "middle child complex," Begin battled his way to the NHL, debuting with Calgary during the 1997-98 season.
Begin joined the Bruins as a free agent this offseason. He's found a home on the fourth line, centering Shawn Thornton and Byron Bitz, and adding speed and attitude to the unit.
"He's 100 miles an hour all the time, which is the way me and [Thornton] like to play too," said Bitz. "He's fun to play with."
While it's not likely Begin, who entered this season with 86 points in 409 NHL games, will continue to share the team lead in points (he does right now with three), it won't be shocking if he stays at or near the top of the hits race. Begin leads the Bruins with eight hits through two games.
And his play is resonating with more than just his linemates.
"Begin plays his heart out," said defenseman Derek Morris. "He comes every single night and he's going to play like that. Basically, the first guy into every single scrum and the last guy out. You know, he plays with a lot of heart, he always has."