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Hard-working checker Begin vows to get high school diploma he left behind

"I'm not saying I'll start tomorrow, but that's what I'm aiming for," the 28-year-old said Tuesday before the Habs hosted the Ottawa Senators. "I'll do it before I finish playing, probably during the summer.

"I'll finish it just because I want to do it. I know it'll be tough though. The longer you wait, the tougher it is."

Begin, a veteran checker who paid his dues in the minors before becoming an NHL regular, admits he was never very interested in school when he was a teenager and dropped out before completing his final year.

A generation ago, that was normal. Some junior coaches even encouraged players to quit school. But most junior clubs, faced with competition for players from U.S. colleges, now help players stay in school by providing tutors and arranging suitable schedules.

It didn't help Begin that his junior team, the Val d'Or Foreurs, was based in one of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's more distant outposts in northwestern Quebec.

He said the long bus rides, often nine or 10 hours, made it difficult to combine hockey and school.

But high school in Val d'Or wasn't a total write-off. It was there he met Amelie Cadrin, whom he would later marry. The couple has a daughter who is almost two.

Now, he says he has become the family man he always wanted to be while growing up in Trois-Rivieres, Que., and getting the high school paper seems more important to him.

He told a Montreal newspaper last week that his parents split up when he was a baby and that he and his sister were raised by an alcoholic father who did his best despite living part of the time on social assistance.

Begin, whose dad has been sober for the past four years, has become active in Canadiens' children's foundation events and this season, he was named spokesman for the Quebec midget triple-A league's drug awareness program.

He appears in television and radio spots encouraging teens to stay off performance-enhancing and recreational drugs.

"The more you talk about it the better," said Begin. "When you see people on TV and radio, sometimes it gets in the kid's ear better than when parents do it.

"I like talking to kids. I play in the NHL for the Montreal Canadiens, so most kids in Quebec know who I am. So it's easy to go out there and talk to them because you know they'll listen."

Begin said he never saw teammates using performance-enhancing drugs in junior or in the NHL.

"If they were using it, they kept quiet about it," he said. "Now that a few people came out and talked about it, there are campaigns everywhere. That's good."

Begin was never a goal-scorer, but his physical, energetic play prompted the Calgary Flames to draft him 40th overall in 1996.

The following season, he played five games for Calgary while still a junior and helped Canada win silver at the world junior championship.

He spent most of the next three seasons with Calgary's AHL team in Saint John, N.B., helping them win a Calder Cup in 2001, when he was named MVP of the playoffs, before he became an NHL regular in 2001-02.

Before the 2003-04 season, he was dealt to the Buffalo Sabres, who left him exposed in the waiver draft and saw him snatched away by Montreal.

Last season was his most productive in the NHL, with highs in games played (76), goals (11), points (23) and penalty minutes (113), but his value is mostly as a hard-working checker who likes to stir his team with a big hit on an opposing player.

He was still seeking his first point of the season going into a game Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators.

But he may get a boost now that Tomas Plekanec, who started the year on one of the top scoring lines, was moved onto the fourth trio with Begin and Garth Murray. That allows Begin to move from centre to his favoured position on left wing.

"Before, all three of us on the line (which also had either Aaron Downey or Guillaume Latendresse) were the same type of player - we all wanted to get the big hit - so it was tougher for me," said Begin. "I had to stay back a bit.

"Now with Plekanec at centre, I'll have more of a chance to go forward and get a hit."

Plekanec, who turned 24 on Tuesday, wasn't surprised to be moved off a line with Alex Kovalev and Sergei Samsonov after posting only two assists in 10 games.

"It didn't work out well, so I expected a change," Plekanec said. "There's nothing to talk about. We didn't play well as a line."


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