Reign goalie Peter Budaj has won the AHL’s Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award given to the league’s outstanding goaltender.
Just last week Budaj was named a first-team All-Star and as head coach Mike Stothers easily predicted on Saturday by saying, “there should be some more awards coming his way as far as I’m concerned,” the 33-year-old Budaj now has his name on the Baz Bastien, the AHL’s version of the NHL’s Vezina Trophy.
Budaj holds a 41-14-0 record and leads the AHL going into the final week of the regular season in nearly every important goaltending statistical category.
The Banska Bystrica, Slovakia, native leads the AHL in wins (41), shutouts (9), goals against average (1.74; no other goalie has under 2.00) and save percentage (.932). He also leads in minutes played with 3,514:33, nearly 400 more than the next highest goaltender.
This season has been a rebound affair of epic proportions for Budaj, who’s in his first year with the Kings organization. A season ago in net for the St. John’s IceCaps, Budaj went winless at 0-9-6 in 19 contests.
“He went from zero to 40. That’s pretty impressive,” Stothers said after Saturday’s 4-1 win over Bakersfield. “He had a tough year last year in St. John’s and it’s just been an incredible turnaround for him but he’s a good goalie and he deserves what he gets because he works so hard and he’s a great teammate. The guys in the room love him. There’s a big difference when, there’s been some good goalies over the years, they’re not the most popular guys in the room because of their personality or whatever, maybe the guys don’t play as hard in front of them. Our guys love playing in front of Budes and he loves playing behind them. It’s a good marriage.”
Budaj was originally brought on via PTO with it being almost unlikely that he would be the team’s No. 1 goalie. But due to unforeseen circumstances, he was turned to to carry the load. The organization lost last season’s starter and Calder Cup-winner J-F Berube when he was claimed on waivers by the New York Islanders at the start of the season. A month later, prospect Patrik Bartosak, who was slated to be the Reign’s starter but was recovering from thumb surgery, faced 12 “domestic-related charges” that included allegations of domestic violence and criminal threats, according to the Union Tribune, while on a conditioning assignment in Manchester. He was subsequently suspended by the Kings and is now playing in his native Czech Republic.
That left the net wide open for Budaj’s comeback season, a season in which he’s played in all but seven of the Reign’s 66 contests to this point.
For his efforts in Ontario, the Kings rewarded him with a one-year contract extension on March 2. Earlier in the season he was also selected to participate in the AHL All-Star festivities to represent the Pacific Division.
Behind Budaj, the Reign (43-18-4-1, .689 winning percentage) have clinched playoff berth and secured the Pacific Division title with his season-high 46-save performance in a 4-1 win at Stockton last Wednesday. The Reign have two games remaining in the regular season to be played Friday and Saturday in San Diego.
Budaj has appeared in 297 NHL games with Los Angeles, Colorado and Montreal, posting a 125-107-36 record with a 2.76 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage.
The award is voted on by coaches, players and members of the media.