42 years is a long time to wait to make your NHL debut, but for David Ayres, it was better late than never.
Serving as the emergency backup goalie in Saturday night’s game between Carolina and Toronto, Ayres was called upon by the Hurricanes after both of their main goaltenders were injured. James Reimer started the game in net for Carolina but left early in the first period after a collision with teammate Jaccob Slavin. His replacement, Petr Mrazek, was injured after getting barrelled over by Toronto’s Kyle Clifford.
With no other goalies on their bench, the Hurricanes had no choice but to turn to Ayres.
A native of Whitby, Ont., Ayres spent most of his career bouncing around the minor leagues before a serious health issue interrupted his playing career. He underwent a kidney transplant in 2004, but the procedure was successful and he made a full recovery.
He has been in and around the Maple Leafs organization for eight years now. It started when he began working at Ricoh Coliseum (now Coca-Cola Coliseum), home of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, where he’s an arena maintenance worker and occasional Zamboni driver. After injuries struck several of the Marlies’ netminders a few years back, he got a chance to show off his skills.
“A couple of guys were hurt, I ended up bringing my gear in and they said ‘hey, you’re pretty decent,” Ayres told the Toronto Sun in January.
His job is primarily to fill in during practice whenever the Marlies or Maple Leafs needed an extra body. For the past three years, he’s also served as the Maple Leafs’ emergency backup, waiting in the wings of Scotiabank Arena just in case his services were ever required. On Saturday night, they finally were.
When Mrazek went down midway through the second period, Ayres quickly got ready. Before he stepped on the ice, he had to sign a one-game contract with the NHL. His payment? $500. Oh, and he would get to keep his game-worn jersey.
He emerged from the tunnel wearing a Toronto Marlies goalie mask and blue pants — in contrast to his red Hurricanes uniform — and strode onto the rink where his new teammates greeted him. Carolina was winning 3-1 with almost 30 minutes of hockey left to be played.
The honeymoon didn’t last long either. Ayres let in goals on the first two shots he faced, although in fairness there wasn’t much he could do for either of them. It wasn’t an ideal start, but the Canes made it to the end of the period up 4-3, and from there Ayres settled down. He kept the Leafs off the scoreboard in the third, making a few great saves in the process.
When all was said and done, his first and last game with the Carolina Hurricanes ended in a comfortable 6-3 win. He was named first star of the game. Tomorrow he’ll be back in practice with the Maple Leafs, the very team he helped defeat.
“I’m probably going to get ripped pretty hard after today,” he told Fox Sports Carolinas after the game. “I guess I can take the game puck with me and show it to them.”
It’s almost certainly the only time we’ll ever see David Ayres in an NHL game, but for one unforgettable night, with the entire league watching, he owned the spotlight.
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