Gone are the days when Peter Budaj led the OHL in playoff save percentage with the Toronto St. Michaels (.923). Gone are the days when he was named junior Rookie of the Year. Becoming the No. 1 goaltender for the AHL Hershey Bears and attempting to develop into a mature goalie is a somewhat a difficult task for this 21-year-old player from Bystrica, Slovakia, especially on home ice. Budaj’s goals against average after 16 games is a mediocre 2.57, though his save percentage is .923. During two of his five professional starts last year, Budaj was pulled by then head coach Mike Foligno. However, it appears that Coach Paul Fixter has not lost hope, describing Budaj as "competitive" especially after losses. He remembers clearly that Budaj can make a comeback especially when pushed to succeed. In fact, exactly one year ago Budaj had a shutout on Philadelphia Phantom ice. At that time, he remarked, "I’m very glad. It’s amazing, my first shutout in professional hockey, so I’ll remember this for the rest of my life."
This season has been more trying. Tom Lawson, backup goalie to Budaj, has quickly adapted his game, reaching his first American Hockey League shutout straight out of training camp and then during his first regular season game at the Giant Center against the Norfolk Admirals. The native of Whitby, Ontario who spends his summers on Toronto Maple Leaf ice appears to show great discipline during his hockey practices. In fact, Lawson frequently sets up the rules instructing the other players, for instance, to shoot at least three pucks for him to block. The Colorado Avalanche signed him as a free agent highly recommended by Craig Billington, former NHL goalie and Colorado Avalanche Director of Player Development who personally oversees his practices at times. The 24-year-old Lawson played for the Fort Wayne Komets during the UHL playoffs and won MVP honors posting 1.68 goals against average. Currently, Lawson’s save percentage is superior to Budaj’s at .933 and goals against average of 2.39 in 8 games played.
Given Lawson’s success and his own struggle, Budaj may be disappointed with his present outlook. Just take a closer look at his play from November 30th, 2003 against Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins with an outstanding forty three shots on goals from Therrien’s team:
First Period – Budaj forgets to take on the rebound. Suddenly, at 18:12 from a shot off the stick of Shane Endicott he misses the puck. It slides smoothly in on the rebound despite good defensive positioning from Jeff Finger.
Second Period – Budaj learns the importance of using his stick. After a body save reminiscent of Roman Cechmanek, Budaj makes an impressive glove save. On the video board, Peter Budaj learns that his stick will be raffled for charity. Perhaps this is a reminder for the goaltender to use it to make a save. Budaj then attempts to stop a shot from above the left circle just to let the rebound in from Marquis Mathieu. The puck plopped overhead from an airborne deflection from his blocker. Budaj explains, "My stick was flat on the ice. He didn’t hit my stick…he hit my blocker. My blocker was up high and I lost [the puck] in the air. I couldn’t find it and it was right behind me," he later explained as to his slippery puck handling maneuver. When the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins pressure, Budaj then attempts to play the puck well outside the crease despite immediate defensemen in the area.
Third Period – Multiple housekeeping butterfly saves and a couple simple glove saves.
Overtime – Overall it appears that Budaj tends to over-rely on his defense. On a two on one from Shane Endicott and Michal Sivek, he explained that defensemen D.J Smith "was sliding in the way of a pass and he did that because the guy has to go around or all over him…so he did a great job. I had a perfect position on the puck. I hoped for big save."