Isn’t sport wonderful?
It can make dreams come true, it can break your heart, it can surprise, it can frighten.
In the case of David Ayres, sport can make you one of the most famous one-game goaltenders in National Hockey League history.
Ayres was the toast of the hockey world after being pressed into duty for the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 23 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Here’s how it happened:
James Reimer started the game as the croupier of the corded cottage for the ‘Canes but he was forced to leave the game in the first period after a collision with teammate Jaccob Slavin. Petr Mrazek, Carolina’s back-up netminder, took over but he, too, was forced to leave the game midway through the second period after being run over by Toronto’s Kyle Clifford in a race to the puck.
Enter Ayres, who was at the game as the emergency back-up just in case either team needed him. Guess what? Carolina needed him.
Now, Ayres’ day job is with the Toronto Marlies, the Leafs’ American Hockey League affiliate, as he drives the Zamboni at the Coca-Cola Coliseum, the Marlies’ home base. He also jumps in as the practice goaltender for both teams from time to time if any of their goalies needs a rest. So the answer to the trivia question is this: the Toronto Maple Leafs lost to a minor-league Zamboni driver and their practice goaltender.
Never mind the fact that Ayres is 42 years old and had a kidney transplant in 2004. No, sir – the Hurricanes needed him and he was ready.
The Carolina players did their best to pump Ayres up as he took to the ice but one of the Sportsnet cameras caught Carolina head coach Rod Brind’Amour’s face as Ayres was heading to the net. To say he wasn’t full of confidence is to say sandpaper is rough – it was obvious.
Ayres’ first touch of the puck saw him fire the puck around the boards to try and clear the zone and it was a popular one with the fans. I always give credit where it’s due and the fans at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto that night were awesome. They were pulling for Ayres just as hard as his temporary teammates were.
He gave up two goals in the second period in three shots but the Hurricanes made sure he didn’t have much to worry about as they kept up the pressure on Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen.
In fact, Ayres shut the door on the Leafs in the third period, stopping every single shot he faced, including the last one with three seconds remaining.
Ayres was named the game’s first star and got a standing ovation and rightly so. Here’s a guy who gets plunked into a situation where you’re supposed to be ready just in case and even though you’re ready for when the call comes, you’re never totally ready.
The dressing room, though, is where the real celebration happened as the Hurricanes doused him with water a la playoff champagne followed by a speech from Brind’Amour, who talked about how great a moment it was. Winning solves everything, right, coach?
In donning the ‘Canes jersey, Ayres became the oldest person to make their National Hockey League debut and became the most-searched person on Google in the following days. The team took advantage of it – like you knew they would – by selling T-shirts with Ayres’ name and number – 90 – on its website. The team plans on giving Ayres any royalties earned from the sales, which is the right thing to do and will donate a portion of all sales to a charity of Ayres’ choice. Roy Cooper, governor of North Carolina, offered to bestow honorary state citizenship on Ayres as a reward for his exploits.
He made the media rounds as well, which should have shocked absolutely no-one because when’s the last time a Zamboni driver beat a National Hockey League team?
In addition, Ayers pocketed a cool $500 for his efforts (an amount that increased thanks to some Hurricanes players), got the game puck for his first career win and gets to keep his game-worn jersey. He now also has a Wikipedia entry with his career stats.
You know you’ve made it when …
More than anything, though, Ayres became a feel-good story simply because of the way it happened. You never expect much from someone who’s essentially there as a Band-Aid but Ayres was a very effective Band-Aid and gave everyone involved something to smile about, even if Hockey Night in Canada’s Craig Simpson crapped on him virtually every chance he got. Even the Leafs players were tapping his pads on occasion and the jokes have begun. I mean, only the Toronto Maple Leafs could lose to a minor-league Zamboni driver, right?
If he never plays another National Hockey League game again, David Ayres can go back to driving his Zamboni knowing that for 24 hours or so, he was the most famous athlete in the world. It proved Andy Warhol’s famous saying right once again: in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.
Ayres got his 15 minutes. A shame it probably won’t last longer because he earned it.