For years, Thomas Budnick’s family has built an outdoor rink in their backyard when winter hits their home in Petoskey, Michigan. It was there, on that small ice sheet, that he took his first strides towards being selected by the Kingston Frontenacs.
Thomas, or “Tommy” as he goes by, is the youngest of three siblings and because of that, growing up, the Budnick’s rink was not initially built with hockey in mind, “My sisters figure skated, so they would use it for that,” Budnick said over Zoom from his living room. While his older siblings figure skated, Tommy strapped on a pair of old figure skates and guided by his sisters, learned to skate in the yard.
It did not take too much time for Budnick to get a pair of hockey skates and eventually start playing the game. With a small community rink near his house, the Great Lakes’ expansive ice, and the backyard rink, he has spent countless hours on open-air ice. “It’s fun, just playing with friends, just going out there and being competitive with each other.”
Budnick has been an active, outdoorsy person throughout his childhood. While playing on outdoor rinks is something he loves, the now 16-year-old has been around other sports and activities his whole life. He played several competitive sports until the ninth grade, when he focused on hockey, but he still enjoys the outdoors and is active away from the ice. “I play baseball, golf, fish, wake surf, and just love hanging outside with friends,” he said. “I try making the most of my time as a kid and making those memories back here in my hometown.”
Budnick has worked to be the best or improve in hockey, life, and all of those activities. Whether it’s wake surfing, working out, or hockey, something has always stood out about him and his group of friends, who help push him to be better. “We’re a pretty competitive bunch,” he said. When the group plays ping pong, mini sticks, outdoor hockey, or anything else, there is always a competitive edge.
“We would always push each other into the snowbank and dangle each other,” he says of playing outdoor hockey. “We also play ping pong; we would play hours of it, we were so competitive. Everyone likes to win, and no one likes anything handed to them, so it’s always a battle here.”
That battling, never say never attitude has helped him excel in hockey, as he spent the 2019-2020 season with the Detroit Honeybaked 15U’s. The defenseman generated 10 goals and 35 assists, putting him on the radar of the Frontenacs, who snagged him with the 59th overall pick in the 2020 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection.
However, playing in the OHL was not always on the radar for the young American. In Michigan, collegiate hockey is a common goal, a path many of his friends will take, but it was never too alluring to him. “I’ve always been more in love with the game itself,” he said. “You dream of playing in the NHL and going to the OHL gives you the best shot with that pro atmosphere.”
Although he has not been able to visit Kingston yet, Budnick is already feeling like a member of the team, getting to know some of his new teammates, as well as the coaching staff. “I’ve become friends with Maddox [Callens], Braden [Hache] and a lot of the younger guys,” he said, immensely excited to meet them soon. “I’ve been able to make great relationships with the coaches, just because we can talk one on one and really look at our game.”
While he has only met his teammates virtually, Budnick is sure of one thing: He will not be the worst dressed team member. “I don’t know the boy’s style yet; I don’t think I’m going to be the worst dressed on the team. Growing up with older sisters, they’ve helped me with my style,” he said. Although he is no luxury designer, he is always looking sharp. “Sometimes I’m feeling a little more country, maybe a flannel or some mud wear; some days it’s a nice pair of joggers.”
From outdoor rinks and competing with friends to playing with the prestigious Honeybaked minor hockey program, Budnick is thrilled to be starting the next chapter of his life in the OHL with Kingston. “I’m an electric kid,” he says. “I’m going to try to bring as much team success and pride and do my best, putting 100% into everything I do and every game that I play.”
When Budnick finally gets the chance to get on the ice with his new Frontenacs teammates, there is no doubt that he will be one of the hardest workers, giving his all to bring success to the hockey club both on and off the ice.