Veteran goaltender Peter Budaj took the ice for the last time on Saturday.
He retires as the winningest goalie in Reign franchise history with 49 wins over two seasons.
Budaj, who tends to fly under the radar, wanted to keep the news a surprise until after the game.
But as a surprise to him, the Reign team donned “Budaj 31” T-shirts during pregame warm ups, and Budaj’s two sons joined him for the pregame ceremony.
In his final game against the Stockton Heat, Budaj made 34 saves on 37 shots, including a highlight reel save in the second period.
Immediately following the game, both teams stayed out on the ice to watch a tribute video on the jumbotron before Budaj took a final lap around the arena. Reign fans showed Budaj their appreciation with a standing ovation, as he hugged his family, teammates and coaching staff.
“When they were chanting my name, it gave me a little bit of goosebumps,” Budaj said. “Being the last time I was going to play here, it’s a pretty special moment.”
A special moment, indeed, but also a little bittersweet for everyone involved.
“It’s something I’ve done my entire life and we leave everything out there, so it was difficult,” Budaj said.
“You don’t want to see a good thing end,” Reign Head Coach Mike Stothers said. “Peter, he’s one of the good ones and he’ll do well with whatever he decides to do.”
“[He’ll] take some time with his family and his kids and hopefully, with whatever he’s doing next, he’ll be just as happy doing that.”
Budaj is perhaps most respected for his perseverence, as he found his way again after a winless season in 2014-15 with the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps. After his comeback, he filled a veteran role with the Reign, serving as an example for the younger guys on the team.
“He’s one guy I can always talk to and at the end of the day, he’s had a hell of a career,” teammate Matt Luff said. “He’s a standup guy and I don’t think I could have asked for a better veteran back there.”
Even the Montreal Canadiens honored the netminder, as Budaj was an important part of their organization from 2011-2014.
“It kicks in, all those memories, the sacrifices everybody else in my life made for me. All the people that helped me, coaches, strength coaches, staff, my family, my wife and kids,” Budaj said.
“It was just a very emotional moment.”
“It was such an honor to have my friends, my teammates, even the other team acknowledge everything,” Budaj said. “I really appreciated it.”