Dave Ayres was having a normal Saturday night with his wife watching the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes play the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena when Hurricanes goaltender James Reimer left the game with an injury.
That meant Ayres, a 42-year-old Zamboni driver who had a kidney transplant 15 years ago, had to leave the stands to put on his gear, on the off chance that something else might happen to the Hurricanes' backup goalie, Petr Mrazek.
Every NHL team has a player like Ayres listed for emergency purposes—a backup-backup goaltender, who doesn't expect to play, but wins the privilege of sitting on the bench and wearing a real jersey with his name on the back.
Ayres, however, was soon called upon to do far more than just sit and observe the game while half-dressed in his gear. In the middle of the second period, Mrazek collided with Toronto Maple Leafs forward Kyle Clifford and suffered an injury. He left the game.
That meant Ayers, a practice goalie for the Maple Leafs and the Toronto Marlies, the Leafs' AHL affiliate, would have to be pressed into action—making him the oldest player in NHL history to make his debut. As Ayers described the moment to the AP after the game, “I had a couple of text messages that told me to get in there. I hadn’t seen the footage (of Mrazek’s injury). I was in the media room by myself and a guy came in and said, ‘Get going. Get ready.’"
Things didn't go smoothly at first for Ayers: He let in two of the first three shots, but thanks the Hurricanes' commanding lead earlier in the game, the team remained ahead 6-3. Following a pep talk from his teammates, Ayers calmed down and settled in, making 7 saves en route to a dramatic—and for many fans, unforgettable—victory.
Dave will be getting royalties, but we are also working with him to identify a kidney foundation that will receive a portion of the proceeds https://t.co/RwSNg12DA4— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) February 23, 2020
"[The] guys were awesome,” Ayres told reporters after the game. “They said to me, ‘Have fun with it, don’t worry about how many goals go in, this is your moment, have fun with it.'”
In an emotional post-game speech, Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind'Amour addressed the team. "All you have is the memories you got, and you guys just gave me one. You gave each other one. And that's a memory I'm gonna have forever," he said.
A memory we'll all have forever pic.twitter.com/LUxqs8o3Wr— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) February 23, 2020
"The way you guys played in that third period—for you," he added, indicating Ayres. "And the way you played for us. I don't know what your song is—but f—k it, pick a song."
I’m ready to make emergency goaltender and zamboni driver David Ayres an honorary North Carolina citizen after courageous @Canes win. Amazing.— Roy Cooper (@RoyCooperNC) February 23, 2020
Following the game, the Hurricanes also put merchandise up for sale on the team's website honoring "Hurricanes legend Dave Ayres," and said they'll work with Ayres to identify a kidney foundation to receive some of the proceeds.
For his efforts, Ayers received a $500 game check. He also kept the jersey.
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