Before Peter Budaj left his home in Slovakia at the age of 16 to play in the Ontario Hockey League, his father told him that one day, he would have to make a very important decision.

“I can show you anything you want,” he told his son, “but when you get older, you'll have to decide what to do with your faith.”

Peter, now 31, remembers that moment fondly. “My parents showed me the right path and I'm very thankful I've been able to remain a Christian throughout my life.”

Elevating to Prominence
After years of playing in the juniors, Peter was drafted by the NHL's Colorado Avalanche in 2001. He appeared in 34 games as a backup goalie for the 2005-2006 season and recorded a combined 47 wins in the next two seasons. In 2008, he was named the starting goalie for the Avalanche for the first time and was re-signed by the team as a backup goalie for the 2009- 2010 season.

On April 1, 2011, Peter became the first Slovakian goaltender to reach 100 career NHL wins with a 4-3 defeat over the Phoenix Coyotes.

Three months later, he signed a two-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens. Praised as a valuable backup to starting goaltender Carey Price, the Canadiens announced that they'd re-signed him as a backup with a two-year extension on his contract.

Gracious Superstar
Peter admits it can be difficult to stay grounded while playing in the NHL.

“I'm not a huge superstar or anything, but people recognize you on the street and it's easy to get carried away.”

Despite the fans, Peter has maintained a spirit of humility.

“My parents sacrificed everything for me and I feel blessed that I can play a sport that I love,” he says, noting his passion began when he watched hockey games on television when he was three.

On his current mask, in addition to the Montreal Canadiens' logo, Peter has a Bible verse inscribed on the corner of the backplate: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

“I don't hide my faith but, at the same time, I'm not a Christian who will go in the middle of the street and yell to everyone that they have to read the Bible,” says Peter. “Our actions and how we live our lives is a better showing of our faith.”

The Salvation Army - - The Ultimate Save Peter Budaj (Photos : Avec l'aimable autorisation du Club de hockey Canadien inc.)

Expression of Faith
That being said, Peter does recognize he is in an opportune position to influence others. “You're under a microscope and people notice who you represent. While I slip many times, there are always opportunities to point toward God and show others who He is.”

His two-year-old son lives in Colorado with his mother, and Peter is acutely aware that he needs to provide a good example for him. He's been a member of Hockey Ministries International since he started his career. Activities include conducting chapels for teams at all levels, hosting youth summer camps and producing resources to nurture growth.

He describes chapel as a casual get-together, rather than a traditional church service, to talk about God and find out where everyone is standing in their faith.

“People misinterpret God,” he says. “They think He's big and bad and going to strike you down. They don't understand that God is loving, but hopefully that will change.”

Peter is open about his Christian faith, often inviting his teammates to attend chapel and pray before each game.

“I put everything in His hands, praying that God will keep everyone safe and that I will play to the best of my abilities. I pray God will use me and help me to say the right things when I need to say them. I also hope I live my life so other people can see that there's something different about this guy, in a good way.

“At the end of the day, hockey is just a sport,” he continues. “What is more important is being there when people need me, being more understanding, loving, forgiving and not judgmental.”

(Reprinted from Living Light News, January 2014)

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