Zach Budish looked around the locker room Thursday morning and realized that underneath it all, he was different from all the others who were there.
Underneath all of his equipment, that is. Budish, an 18-year-old center out of Edina, Minn., wears nothing underneath his uniform and pads.
“I don’t wear a T-shirt, any underwear or anything,” he said.
Most hockey players wear a long sleeve T-shirt and some cotton pants or — increasingly — some high-tech clothing that provides thermal protection and moisture transport.
That’s the case for the 30 players at this week’s Nashville Predators prospects conditioning camp, with the exception of Budish, a second-round pick in last month’s draft.
“I kind of noticed it earlier (Thursday),” he said. “Everyone had a long-sleeve shirt on or at least a short sleeve.
“When I sleep and stuff like that, I need to have it really cold in the room. One day I decided not to wear a shirt (for hockey), and I’ve just done it that way ever since.”
Budish’s hockey career was put on ice last fall when he sustained a serious knee injury playing football. He only began to skate again in March and was not cleared for full contact until a couple weeks ago.
Even so, the Predators selected him 41st overall with the belief that the 6’3”, 229-pounder eventually will add some much-needed bulk up front. That earned him the invitation to this week’s camp, which basically represented his return to competitive hockey.
“Going from high school to a camp like this is a pretty big jump, let alone after not having played the whole year,” he said. “I felt a lot more comfortable out there (Thursday) than (Wednesday). (Wednesday) I felt I was missing some passes that I should make. (Thursday) I felt a lot more comfortable and played a lot better.”
This fall, he will play for the University of Minnesota, the team for which he rooted as a child. He hopes to return to the form that made him his high school team’s 2007-08 most valuable player with 63 points in 30 games.
If all goes well, he could be a professional at this time next year.
“I’m just taking it one year at a time,” he said. “I realize I have a lot of room to improve before I step into Nashville and Milwaukee. I just want to take it one year at a time and we’ll see what happens.”
For now, he just wants to see how he measures up against the Predators’ other top prospects.
“It’s a blast coming down here with 30 guys who are all great hockey players and competing in the weight room and on the ice, getting to know everyone and getting used to the whole National Hockey League organization and everything,” Budish said. “Obviously, it’s my first year here, so it’s a great experience and everything. I’m trying to take it all in.”
Just don’t expect him to put it all on.