The NHL has a very similar aspect to some other major leagues. Dreams of may draftees are to one day put on a jersey of the 30 NHL teams and be a part of the most unique sport in the world. However, there are thousands of others who are fighting for that opportunity. Some don’t ever make it, but they reach high enough so that they are just one tier away from achieving that dream.
However, there are that select few that never let go from the sport, and at one point had a taste of that kind of glory before. They would bounce back from the AHL and NHL leagues for most of their career. Most that are sent back are usually there to bolt up their skills or eventually become trade bait for other teams who are desperate to build their farm system. For many hockey players, a lot of them have the same result where they rarely make it or get a small sample of fame, only to have their dream deferred.
But take Ontario Reign goaltender Peter Budaj, who has had a lot of time in the NHL, recently signed with the LA KINGS on a one year, two-way contract. He was eventually waived from the team and was sent down to the Reign, and has now played in the AHL for consecutive years after playing for the Colorado Avalanche and Montreal Canadians for nine seasons. In his time he would only relinquish the role as a starter for one season with Colorado, while the rest of his tenure he would play as a backup. A lot of bad luck had loomed on Budaj, falling ill with the H1N1 virus in 2009, but that never deterred his play on the ice.
Of Slovenian descent, he made hockey his life, and just like the thousands of hockey players trying to live the dream, he has stayed in contract with a team for the last 15 or so years. However, criticism always went against Budaj, saying he never reacted quick enough, and at times would allow too many soft goals. Even after the Kings let him go through waivers, one writer mentioned “All apologies to Budaj, but it’s probably true that the Kings would prefer not to see him at the NHL level very often in 2015-16.”
In response to that, Budaj has not only led the league in goals against (1.53) and shutouts (4), stats like these have not even come close in his career. He had a small pick me up in 2002 with the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors, but nothing has equated to what kind of improvement he has done in between the pipes.
What has come about from a player that has yet to find a place call home?
“When I am on the ice, I just try to think about that next save,” Budaj said. I try to give myself a chance to win the game and when you are winning your team is winning. For me and wherever I have been I always play for the logo in the front rather than the name in the back, and I have always given it my all”
Budaj gives a lot of credit to the Reign and how well things have gone so far. Currently they are at the top of the Pacific Division, which shows how string the Kings organization has become.
“If you try to do too much and try to carry the team on your shoulders you are going to overwork yourself,” Budaj said. “For me I can’t just put any pressure on myself. “I have been playing really well and have been working extremely hard, but with how our teammates have rallied together we have done a wonderful job relying on each other. I focus on my job and I put a lot of trust on my teammates, and so far things have worked well.”
While some Kings fans are calling him goalie insurance, just in case things go south, Budaj seems to be having the time of his life. From a player who has not been given the opportunity to achieve success, he may have another shot with a team that least expected things would move this way. This could be a blessing in disguise.
“I am happy to be here,” Budaj said. “The organization has great depth in the minors and they have a wonderful future ahead of them. We have players here that are coachable and it sheds on to our success. We are all engaged in being professional. I am blessed to be here and thrilled to be a part of the Reign and hope to continue my success.”