The Zamboni Driver who Made NHL History
Ready or not, at some point in your life the Big Leagues come calling and you've got to get into the game.
The Carolina Hurricanes recently played the Maple Leafs in Toronto and something extraordinary happened.
Some background information for those who might not be so familiar with hockey. Each team dresses two goalies. The guy who will play and a back-up in case he gets injured or is pulled because he is having an off night.
I will let The Hockey News take over from here:
Things started off on the wrong foot for the Hurricanes when goalie, James Reimer was pulled six minutes into the first period when he got injured. Petr Mrazek took over, but after 30 minutes in the Hurricanes’ crease, Mrazek rushed towards the blueline to play the puck where he collided with Maple Leafs winger Kyle Clifford. Mrazek was down for roughly two minutes before he was helped off the ice with an upper-body injury – without a backup in sight!
So now Carolina doesn’t have a goalie – both are out with injuries. What to do? In every NHL game there is an emergency goalie hanging around, usually a guy who helps the local team in practice and who is available for either team in the rare event of what took place at Scotia Bank Centre Saturday evening.
Enter David Ayres, a 42-year-old from Whitby, Ontario whose last competitive action was an eight-game stint with Norwood Vipers of the Allan Cup Hockey League where he allowed 58 goals with a .777 save percentage and a 0-8 record.
There is an obscure hockey term for a goalie with that winning percentage and record. “He sucks!” 58 goals in 8 games – do the math. That’s over seven goals a game on average. This guy is the Joe Shlabotnik of hockey.
But probably Ayres’ greatest claim to fame is that he has been the Zamboni driver for Toronto’s farm club, the Marlies. Yeah, he is the guy between periods resurfacing the ice.
The Zamboni driver is now playing goalie in a professional NHL game! The Zamboni driver!
At this point in the match Carolina was up 3-1. They soon score again and now Ayres has a 4-1 cushion. But the Leafs quickly get to work and on their first two shots against him they score, making it 4-3. They almost tie it on their next shot but it somehow stays out. Well, everyone at this point is assuming the inevitable and thinking, “Just take as many shots on the guy as you can!”
Things look like they are going to get ugly and watching the game all I could think was, “I hope they have some rachmanus (mercy) on the poor shlub. I hope once Toronto goes up by 4 goals the players don’t try to pad their statistics at his expense.”
Turns out my fears were unfounded. Carolina got two quick goals at the beginning of the third period. His teammates rallied around him and played amazing defensive hockey, smothering and shutting the Leafs down. Toronto could only muster seven shots against him and Ayres settled into his new job, stopping them all.
The Canes won 6-3 and Ayres was picked as first star to the applause of the Toronto fans who, despite their team losing, rose to their feet in recognition of this historical moment. And historical it was. He set a few records that night by playing the longest by an emergency backup in NHL history. He also became the first emergency goalie to win a game. And at 42 years and 194 days, he is the oldest goalie ever – emergency backup or otherwise – to win a regular-season debut.
Zamboni driver David Ayres, who made NHL history by helping the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Toronto Maple Leafs as an emergency back-up goalie on Feb. 22, 2020, will soon have his own Upper Deck trading card.
What happened to David Ayres that Saturday night in Toronto happens to all of us. Because at some point or another, whether you’re ready for it or not, life is gonna come calling. The Big League is going to call your name. You’re going to get that nod and be told to get ready because you’re in. And nobody is going to care if you’re prepared for it or not. You won’t have any choice except to suit up, take that long walk through the player tunnel, get out there, and get in the game.
And before you know it, you’ll be facing the pros. And when that puck come whizzing at you at 100 mph all you can do is stick out your glove or hold fast onto your stick and let that hard rubber crash into you. You gotta flash that leather or stack those pads and if need be, let it strike you right there on your chest, right at your heart where you proudly display the emblem of your team that you now find yourself representing. That team, or that person who came into your life, or that cause that arrived – suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, came calling your name and thrust you into the game.
And if you wonder how you're going to pull it off, how you will make it, don't forget what the Hurricanes did for Ayres. They rallied around him. They protected him. They did everything they could to make sure he would succeed.
We all have a team behind us as well. A team of family, a team of friends, a team of community. A nation and a history and the best coach of all time, God Almighty. They are there to encourage, to help and to get us through it. They’re also going to accept us no matter what happens – even if we fall flat on our face. As Ayres related afterwards, “These guys were awesome. Eric Haula settled me down. He told me, ‘Just have fun. We don’t care if you let 10 goals in.’”
So when that moment arrives, step up, ride it out and remember that nobody expects you to be perfect when life thrusts you into a brand new challenging situation. And before you know it, your life will have dramatically changed… a change greater than that of going from a Zamboni Driver to an NHL star.