‘It’s been nuts.’ Zamboni goalie David Ayres is back in demand. Beating the Leafs seems like only yesterday
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/10/2021 (589 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
RALEIGH, N.C.—The life of David Ayres have been turned upside down since the last time the Maple Leafs played the Carolina Hurricanes.
Ayres, you may remember, became a beer-league legend on Feb. 22, 2020 when he was the goalie of record in a 6-3 Carolina win over Toronto at Scotiabank Arena. Both Carolina goalies got hurt (one of them current Leaf Petr Mrázek) and, at age 42, Ayres answered the call as the designated emergency backup.
“Life’s been crazy, that’s for sure, for the last almost two years now,” he said Monday. “It’s been nuts. It’s obviously not going to be the same. Ever.”
And the Hurricanes — in an example of good marketing and/or excellent trolling — brought Ayres to Monday night’s game at PNC Arena to relive that glory. He operated the goal horn and was introduced as an “alum” who remains undefeated. He got a big ovation.
The Hurricanes had invited David and his wife, Sarah, to a Leafs-Canes game scheduled for March 26, 2020, but it never happened because of the pandemic.
Sarah quit her job to handle all the bookings that inevitably came with his sudden rise to fame, including late-night talk shows, a book deal and a movie in the works. The pandemic slowed all that.
“So it went from this ultimate high down to a crashing low,” she said. “And now it’s picking back up again, where all of a sudden my emails are flooded. My Twitter is full of people saying, ‘Oh, his 15 minutes of fame is over’ and I’m like, nope.”
Ayres took a moment to relive his evening of glory. With Mrázek and ex-Leaf James Reimer injured, the emergency netminder entered in the second period with a 3-1 lead. The first two shots beat him, but he stopped the next eight.
“John Tavares scored the first one, kind of around the corner and it was a bit of a screen,” said Ayres. “I overplayed it. The second one, Pierre Engvall, it actually hit Jake Gardiner’s shin pad right on to Pierre’s stick and then in the net. And I knew I didn’t really have much of a chance on that one. But you’ve got to regroup at that point. You had to get the jitters out of the way.”
He had worked for Ricoh (now Coca-Cola) Coliseum and became friends with many of the players he would beat from his time helping the AHL’s Marlies. He was also a practice goalie and, over a three-year stretch that ended with the pandemic, was frequently the EBUG (emergency backup goalie, each rink has one). That had its advantages.
“I was used to the players, the shots, the speed of the game,” said Ayres. “What you’re not used to is having 20,000 fans in there screaming. And getting on the ice and having to wait for them to start the game. I wanted to kind of get into it, but I didn’t really get a chance to get into it. You didn’t have too many warm-up shots.
“Toronto would have the puck in their own end, coming across their own blue line and the fans yelling ‘Shoot!’ And I’m thinking my head, ‘Please shoot. I need more shots. I need to get more right.’ You need pucks to hit you in the chest just to get warm at that point. But yeah, it was definitely a fun night.”
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour acknowledged that Ayres’s name is quasi-legendary.
“And not just around here,” the coach said. “I think it might be more up there where you guys are than down here. But it’s a great story, obviously. Great to be a part of it, and happy for a guy like that to get some life out of it, right? Like, it’s just a great story.”
Such a great story that Disney has plans to make a movie about it, though COVID-19 has slowed that process.
And lots of good has come from it. Ayres is coaching a Whitby U-16 Triple-A team and running a goalie school. But the best is his support of the Kidney Foundation of Canada. He’s a kidney transplant recipient himself.
“I’m always willing to help the Kidney Foundation. If it wasn’t for me having a kidney transplant, I never would’ve been able to do half the stuff I do, not even necessarily hockey. I was on dialysis, and to see all the other people that have been there waiting for three, four or five, even nine years for one guy, it’s horrible.
“So anything I can do to kind of help out a little bit, I’m all on board for that.”
Kevin McGran is a Star sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @kevin_mcgran