Peter Budaj doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to want to make a bunch of fanfare about a personal announcement, so it makes sense that the fact of his impending retirement from professional hockey was kept under wraps by his his teammates and the Ontario Reign organization.
But between hints on Twitter of an impending announcement from Budaj, and his teammates with gestures like this one—
—well, it wasn’t too hard to see what was coming.
Budaj’s children joined him on the ice during the national anthem, but there was another tribute coming for Budaj after the game. Budaj’s family joined him on the ice for a video recognizing the goaltender and his career.
Budaj — whose final game was a 4-2 loss to the Stockton Heat, where he made 34 saves on 37 shots — is the winningest goalie in Reign franchise history. His 49 wins over two seasons with the Reign puts him on top for the franchise. (Jack Campbell has 43 wins over two seasons and a conditioning loan this year.)
Budaj also started 51 games for the Los Angeles Kings in the 2016-17 season, one in which he unexpectedly found himself having to step up after a lower body injury to Jonathan Quick in the first game of the season, and after Jeff Zatkoff’s inconsistent play showed he wouldn’t be a viable starter. While he was expected to continue as the starter for the Reign that season, instead Budaj was starting in the NHL, where he did everything he could to keep the Kings afloat without Quick that year.
The true impact of Budaj, however, is more of a testament to hard work and perseverance of a player who had largely been written off after a disastrous 2014-15 campaign with the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps. He appeared in 19 games for the IceCaps and won none of them. The next season, the only offer he got was a try-out with the Kings. Their new goaltender development coach for the Reign, Dusty Imoo, had familiarity with Budaj from his previous work in St. John’s.
After that? Magic. Budaj’s work effort and determination to resurrect his career were shown off in full force as he backstopped the Reign in 2015-16. Working with Imoo helped Budaj recapture his game and extend his longevity as he had a career year with Ontario. That season, Budaj recorded the AHL’s best goals against average (1.75), best save percentage (.932), most shutouts (9), and most wins (42) that season, en route to being named the AHL’s best goaltender.
Hockey’s greatest gift... the friendships and the bonds that forever tie you together. Buds, it was an honor to coach you but more importantly, I am lucky to call you a true friend. Congrats on an unbelievable career! On to the next chapter my friend @PBudaj31 #retirement pic.twitter.com/16SUf8CM1s— Dusty Imoo (@Dusty70) April 13, 2019
The Reign have one more game in the season, an away game against the Bakersfield Condors tonight. Cal Petersen will most likely get that start, but Budaj got to go out on top, with one last game in front of an Ontario crowd that deeply loves him.
And it wouldn’t have been a Peter Budaj game without at least one eye-popping athletic save:
Congratulations to Peter Budaj on a great career and thanks to him for all he’s done for both the Reign and the Kings over the years.