NHL

David Ayres revels in remarkable NHL debut as Zamboni driver helps Hurricanes win

By Sports Desk February 23, 2020

Fifteen years ago, David Ayres believed his hockey-playing days were over following a kidney transplant.

On Saturday, the 42-year-old Zamboni driver played a starring role as he was thrust into the spotlight as an emergency goaltender in the Carolina Hurricanes' NHL win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Ayres, who works for the Maple Leafs' minor league affiliate the Toronto Marlies, driving the machine that resurfaces the ice, was available as an emergency backup for both teams.

Injuries to Hurricanes goalies Petr Mrazek and James Reimer led to Ayres - watching the game from the media room - receiving a text informing him to get ready to make his NHL debut.

He quickly conceded two goals as the Maple Leafs reduced the Hurricanes' 4-1 lead to 4-3 but pulled off eight saves to help Carolina seal a 6-3 win, a performance that saw him named the game's First Star.

After being greeted in the Hurricanes locker room with a champagne shower, Ayres reflected on what the storybook turn of events meant to him.

"I had no idea I was going to get a shower before I got in the shower," Ayres said of the celebrations.

"I went through a kidney transplant 15 years ago, never thought I was going to play hockey again at that moment and started with the Marlies, spent eight years with the Marlies and I guess three with the Leafs now.

"The whole Leafs organisation from top to bottom have been amazing to me since day one, to be able to get on the ice, in Toronto, all the fans, the guys on the other team are kind of looking at me, I make a save they're looking at me like 'we're going to get you' sort of thing. It's unreal, right now it's hard to put into words."

It was a game to live long in the memory, and Ayres will make sure he has a memento in his house by which to remember the experience.

He added: "It's gonna be good to go home and relax and take my jersey with me, probably hang it up somewhere and look at it every day."

Ayres frequently practises with the Maple Leafs and Marlies but insisted he did not expect a tense atmosphere at Sunday's session.

"I'm supposed to practise at 12:30," said Ayres. "Not awkward, I'm going to take my game puck with me. They'll have fun with it, I'm sure they'll be super happy I got in."

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