Habs’ Budaj known for his faith, along with fierce intensity

 

 
 
 
 
Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) leaves the game and is replaced by Peter Budaj during second period of Wednesday night’s game against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
 

Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) leaves the game and is replaced by Peter Budaj during second period of Wednesday night’s game against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

Photograph by: Gene J. Puskar, AP

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MONTREAL - Canadiens goalie Peter Budaj will never be a heartless assassin, no matter his look of bad intentions Wednesday in Pittsburgh as he tried to get at Penguins netminder Marc-André Fleury.

Nor will he ever be the unhinged wing nut who adds mayhem to his goaltending tool box.

Budaj is a man of strong faith who has just one professional hockey fight on his record. Indeed, on the left temple of his mask is a likeness of Ned Flanders, the devoutly Christian character on The Simpsons who wouldn’t throw a dirty look, much less a punch.

He has just 42 penalty minutes in 591 career games — including Ontario major junior; the under-18 and under-20 world juniors, world championships and Olympics for his native Slovakia; and the American Hockey League and NHL.

But Budaj’s focus and fierce intensity are well known among his teammates, present and past, who regard him as one of the game’s most competitive athletes.

Now-retired Mathieu Darche has twice played on Budaj’s teams, first with the AHL’s Hershey Bears during the 2004-05 lockout, then with the Canadiens.

It was in Rhode Island in November 2004 that all hell broke loose during a game between the Bears and host Providence Bruins, a rumble under the stands late in the second period following a scrap between Hershey’s Jeff Finger and the Bruins’ Jay Henderson.

A single corridor to opposing dressing rooms is seldom a good idea.

Play was suspended and the players who remained trooped off the ice, closely followed by the officials, the balance of the period added to the third.

And then only Budaj and Bruins goalie Hannu Toivonen were left on the rink, shooting a puck back and forth at each other.

“Hannu kind of knew the Providence fans wanted him to do something,” Budaj recalled. “We looked at each other and … it was mutual. It was nothing against him and he knew that. The fans got a good kick out of it.”

The two goalies met precisely at centre ice, 200 by 85 feet to themselves, took off their masks and started throwing bombs.

Well, one of them did.

“Buds was pitching and Toivonen was catching,” Darche remembers, his view backed up by a shaky YouTube video.

Toivonen, a Finn now playing for the Nashville Predators’ AHL affiliate in Milwaukee, doesn’t disagree with that assessment.

“I got my ass handed to me,” he told Joe McDonald of espnboston.com.

“(I didn’t know) how tough a customer Budaj was. ... He asked me to go and it was basically hang on because I had no idea what I was doing.

“Obviously, he knew what he was doing and it’s a funny moment in my career. It’s something to still be laughing about.”

Budaj pretty much mopped the faceoff circle with Toivonen, both tumbling to the ice near bout’s end. A few players had come back out to oversee its finish, the officials still in the tunnel trying to manage the chaos under the stands, but Budaj was a perfect sportsman; he eased off completely with Toivonen down, threw his own arms up as if to say, “I’m done” — then even grabbed Toivonen’s hand in a gesture of “good job” when they were back on their feet.

Budaj mostly remembers Providence enforcer Brendan Walsh, who was on his way to 284 penalty minutes in 45 games that season, standing over himself and the thrashed Toivonen, a handful of Bruins having been attracted by the roaring crowd.

“I appreciated that Walsh didn’t jump me,” he said with a laugh.

It was a memorable night for Darche, who said he mostly jostled in the corridor as fists flew.

“I remember that like it was yesterday,” he said, recalling Hershey’s 300-pound bus driver, allegedly a former NFLer, mixing it up in the shemozzle.

“You see a bunch of things in the minors, but you don’t see a brawl under the stands every day.”

For a moment Wednesday, Darche didn’t like Fleury’s chances as Budaj made a beeline for his Penguins counterpart.

“I like Flower, he’s a great guy,” Darche said. “But Buds would have the upper hand in that one. With his team losing (the Canadiens were down 5-1 with 5:10 to play), you’ve got more anger. He was intense. When the camera moved to him and he had his sleeves pulled up, I laughed.”

If Darche figures Philadelphia’s Ray Emery is the toughest goalie in the NHL, he calls Budaj and stablemate Carey Price the league’s most rugged tandem.

Had Price really wanted to fight Boston’s Tim Thomas in their goofy 2011 tango, Darche said, “he could have dummied him.”

dstubbs@montrealgazette.com

Twitter: Dave_Stubbs


 
 
 
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Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) leaves the game and is replaced by Peter Budaj during second period of Wednesday night’s game against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
 

Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) leaves the game and is replaced by Peter Budaj during second period of Wednesday night’s game against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

Photograph by: Gene J. Puskar, AP

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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