MONTREAL - Life after hockey has just begun for Peter Budaj.
On April 12, the 36-year-old goaltender played his final professional game with the Los Angeles Kings' AHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign.
Budaj enjoyed a 13-year NHL career before hanging up his skates, making stops in Colorado, Montreal, Tampa Bay and Los Angeles.
The Slovak netminder signed as a free agent with the Canadiens on July 1, 2011 and would spend three seasons sporting the bleu-blanc-rouge.
We recently caught up with Budaj to reminisce about his time with the Habs and learn more about his plans for the future.
What was the best part about being a member of the Canadiens?
PETER BUDAJ: It was one of my most amazing times playing. I think every hockey player young and old, there are only a few teams that have a name like Montreal. I think Montreal is on top. The tradition and the passion of the people, the way that the club is seen in the eyes of people and players in the hockey world, it was a very special time for me to be there. I was very thankful that I was able to play there. Any player that has ever played for the Canadiens will tell you the same thing. Putting on the Canadiens jersey for the first time is a very special moment. You come to the Bell Centre and see all the banners and the retired names, and you're expected to be the best and be excellent. It's a pretty amazing feeling when you put that jersey on because there's a lot of tradition and a lot of people behind it that fought for the organization to be successful in the past and you want to do the same. You can feel the passion of the people and the fans around you. They live and breathe the team. In Montreal, the people take their hockey very, very seriously.
Is there one moment you experienced as a Hab that stands out from the rest?
PB: Definitely the first game for me was special. Even at the beginning of the season, the opening ceremony with the torch and everyone was passing it back and forth. It's pretty significant for a player. You might see on TV the nice spectacle, but it's more than that. When you see the torch being passed from a player from an era when the team was so successful, you just feel very responsible to do your best every single day, not just when people are watching. You want to improve and help the team win games because it's a winning organization and winning is why the players are brought there. That's something that will stand out for me. Being in the playoffs and going to the third round was also amazing. Everybody on our team pulled together. Playing with Carey Price is something I'll always remember. He's a good friend. I was lucky that I could play with him.
Tell us more about your working relationship with Carey.
PB: Carey is a great guy. He's a very good person. He works really hard and he wants to be the best. He's such a competitive player. He really wants to help the team and win a Stanley Cup for the Canadiens. It's something where you can always count on him that he's always going to give you his best. That's why I loved to play with him. It was great to learn from him. The way he approaches practices, the way he approaches games, the way he approaches the ups and downs, he does everything very professionally. I think he really grew a lot from the first moment he stepped into the NHL. He understands the game and he understands how to be on top of his game in the moments that the team needs him. It was a great experience for me. Off the ice as a person, he's just a great guy. We actually chatted quite a bit. Whether you're the starter or the backup, it doesn't matter because you're both playing for the same thing. You're playing for the success of the team. It was great that we could have a good relationship. I think the starter and the backup have to help push each other. I learned a lot from Carey, even though I'm older than him. I was trying to learn what I could from him.
What do you miss most about Montreal, aside from hitting the Bell Centre ice, of course?
PB: The food in the city is amazing. My wife, Taylor, and I loved the food there. We were actually thinking of maybe coming back for vacation this summer and bringing our younger son, Michael, too. He wasn't born yet when I was playing there. I'd like to show him where we played. It's pretty special. If you love hockey, like I do and my family does, it's a very special place. Hockey is everywhere. That's what makes me really happy because I love the sport. I lived in the Old Port for one year and then I spent two years in Brossard. On our days off, we always used to take my our older son, Peter, to Eggspectation. I also love wine and so does my wife, and we never had a shortage of that in Montreal. (Laughs)
Now that your playing days are over, what's next?
PB: I definitely want to spend time with my family. When you're playing, you don't have as much time as you'd like with them. The last three years, I was going back and forth, being traded and moving around. It has a real impact, especially when you have kids. But, I also want to stay involved with hockey. I want to coach kids and do camps. I already have some camps lined up. I want to share my experience and help the young generation of goalies come up and try to help improve their game. I always enjoy coaching and going on the ice with kids. It's really exciting for me to see the way they understand the game and the way they play. I'll try to give them some tips. I really want to stay in the game because I love it. I know I'm going to miss it, but it was just the right move for me to retire. I think if I can share my experience with the younger generation of goalies, that would be great. People can visit my website, Budaj Blockers, to see where I'm hosting camps. I've already confirmed three camps in Denver, Los Angeles and Ontario, CA. When it comes to teaching, I really want to stress fundamentals with young goalies, especially skating. When they're older, they can work on game-specific situations because their fundamentals are good. You have to start walking before you can run.
You closed out your career in California, so is that still home?
PB: We actually moved to Bozeman, MT right after the season. I think the way of life here is amazing. It's a great place. Taylor used to go to school here back in the day and her family is from here. We always used to vacation here during the summers at our cabin. We really liked it, so for now the plan is to stay. It's a great community. There's also a lot of good hockey in the area. Maybe I'll do some coaching here with the Junior team or help out at Montana State University. I just want to stay in the hockey world, so I'll be coaching my boys, too. I've done a few practices. Peter is going to turn nine in July and Michael just turned four. Peter is a defenseman. He also plays lacrosse and played goalie the other day for the first time. I was actually shocked - in a positive way - because he was pretty good. (Laughs) I'm not just saying that because he's my son, because anybody who knows me can tell you if I'm hard on somebody, it's going to be the people I care the most about. He was actually really good, so I was very proud of that. It was very cool to see.
Is coaching your sons a bit of a nerve-wracking experience?
PB: We just had a tournament in Minnesota with Peter. It was a team combining players from different states. I was an assistant coach. When we were playing the final game, I wouldn't say I was stressed out, but you can only tell them what to do and they have to go do it. It's very difficult and very different than being a player. As a player, you're told what to do and you do it, and most likely it's going to be fine. But, as a coach you're handcuffed and you can't really do much. (Laughs) The players have to believe in you and try to do it. The kids were great, though, and we had a really great time. They really try hard and we ended up winning, which was fun.
It sounds like you're going to be a busy guy going forward…
PB: It's sad when your career is over, but it's the next chapter. I'm very excited about it. It's going to be super cool. By staying in hockey, I can still do what I love to do. There's a part of every career where you have a beginning and you have an end. You have to enjoy the playing part and be thankful for it. Now, I think it's very important to just enjoy myself and my family. The same energy I put into playing, I can put into coaching and helping somebody else. I can also spend more time with my kids and try to teach them more and more things that I wasn't able to share during the season. I wasn't able to go to tournaments and practices because I was playing, but I'll be there now.