'It was wild': Zamboni driver David Ayres on his incredible night as emergency NHL goalie
TORONTO -- Twenty-four hours ago, David Ayres was simply enjoying his life as a Zamboni driver. But now his name is known across the hockey world, and he’s been offered honorary citizenship in one state.
“It was wild, it was pretty fun,” the Whitby, Ont. native told reporters after Saturday night’s game, which may well become the basis for a future Hollywood film.
Ayres has practiced with the Leafs in the past and told CTV News Channel on Sunday, “it definitely was fun going against the guys I practice with all the time.”
During an NHL game, the home team is required to have an emergency goalie in the building in case either team loses their goalies during the game for whatever reason. And on this night in Toronto, it was Ayres.
Ayres, who had been watching the game in Scotiabank Arena with his wife, quickly began donning equipment when Carolina Hurricanes goalie James Reimer went down with an injury.
And once Carolina backup Petr Mrazek went down, Ayres was told “Get going. Get ready” because he was going in net.
And so it was that the 42-year-old Zamboni driver for the Toronto Marlies was forced onto the ice as an emergency backup goalie for the Hurricanes. And after a rocky start, he went on to make eight saves helping to carry the team to an unlikely 6-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Ayres’ wife, Sarah, was one of his biggest cheerleaders during his time on the ice, tweeting about him throughout the night. In one tweet, she wrote: I am the happiest, proudest woman on the planet because my human got to live out his ultimate dream.. I’m also surprised I still have a voice.”
Within hours of the game ending, the social media-savvy Carolina Hurricanes already had Ayers’ No. 90 jersey up available for sale on their website.
In a follow-up tweet, the team wrote that “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.” The choice of charity has a special meaning for the backup goalie: around 15 years ago, Ayres had a kidney transplant and, at the time, he thought he’d never play hockey again.
“I obviously got a second chance at life,” he told CTV News Channel, thanking his mother for donating her kidney. “Without my kidney transplant I wouldn’t be here right now doing this.”
In both Canes tweets, the comment section was flooded with memes and jokes at the Leafs’ expense.
Even North Carolina governor Roy Cooper took to Twitter to praise Ayres, tweeting, “I’m ready to make emergency goaltender and Zamboni driver David Ayres an honorary North Carolina citizen after courageous (Hurricanes) win. Amazing.”
Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour gave his emergency goalie kudos as well, telling reporters after the game: “What a moment for him that he can have for the rest of his life. That’s incredible.”
'THIS IS YOUR MOMENT, HAVE FUN WITH IT'
Ayres, who donned a face mask for the Marlies as he skated onto the ice, looked like he was in for an embarrassing night, letting in two goals early into his time between the pipes during the second period.
But he said his new teammates told him “Don’t worry about how many goals go in, just enjoy it. This is your moment -- have fun with it.” That’s when he rose to the occasion, buckled in and shut out the Leafs the rest of the day.
“I was nervous for the whole second period. As you could tell, I couldn’t stop a puck if I had to in the second but I told the boys, ‘when I come out in the third I’ll be ready to go,” he said, praising the Hurricanes defence for keeping the puck away from him.
Speaking to CTV News Channel, he stressed the importance of “just kind of being in that moment, you just try and soak it in as much as you can and try and make a couple saves.”
But Ayres even had words of thanks for rabid Toronto Maples Leafs fans.
“Even though I was on the other team, they were so receptive, they were so awesome -- every time I made a save, I could hear them cheering for me,” he said. Ayres also told CTV News Channel, “that was the part that shocked me the most … it was so cool to have the Toronto fans, even though I was wearing a different jersey to have my back.”
He received a standing ovation from the 19,414 fans in the arena and once the emergency goalie walked into the visitors' dressing room, he was doused in celebratory beers from players on the Hurricanes.
Hurricanes head coach Brind'Amour singled out Ayres for post-game praise, saying, “It’s not often in a game you get tied to a great memory. That’s why you do this … when you look back, all you have is the memories you got and you guys just gave me one … that’s a memory I’m going to have forever.”
Ayres is taking a memento from the night: the game puck. He told CTV News Channel the Hurricanes are going to frame the puck along with the jersey he wore that special night and send it back to him.
He said he plans to hang up the jersey “and look at it every day.”
With files from CTVNews.ca writer Ben Cousins and The Canadian Press