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."

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Ilya Mikheyev underwent surgery to repair a severed artery and tendons in his wrist, the NHL team announced on Saturday.

Mikheyev is facing at least three months on the sidelines following the gruesome injury suffered against the New Jersey Devils on Friday.

The 25-year-old rookie, who is expected to make a full recovery, was cut by the skate of the Devils' Jesper Bratt in the third period.

Mikheyev left a trail of blood on the ice as he immediately exited the rink in a scary moment for the Maple Leafs, who won 5-4 in overtime.

The Russian has scored eight goals and supplied 15 assists for 23 points this season.

The Toronto Maple Leafs sacked head coach Mike Babcock, the NHL franchise announced on Wednesday.

Toronto axed Babcock with the Maple Leafs struggling for form this season, and promoted Toronto Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe.

The Maple Leafs (9-10-4) decided to make a change amid a six-game winless streak following Tuesday's 4-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

"Over parts of the last five seasons, Mike has played an integral role in changing the direction of our franchise," Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said in a statement.

"Mike's commitment and tireless work ethic has put our organisation in a better place and we are extremely grateful and appreciative of the foundation he has helped us build here.

"At this time, we collectively felt that it was best to make a change to Sheldon Keefe. Sheldon's record with the Marlies in terms of development and on-ice success during his time in our organisation has compelled us all to feel that he is the right person to take us to the next stage in our evolution."

Babcock arrived in Toronto amid much hype in 2015, having led the Detroit Red Wings to Stanley Cup glory seven years earlier.

However, Babcock – who reportedly became the highest-paid coach in NHL history at the time of his arrival – was unable to deliver success.

The Maple Leafs made three consecutive playoff appearances heading into 2019-20, however, Toronto never advanced past the first round.

"I'm disappointed," Babcock said in a statement to TSN. "We didn't have the start to the year we wanted and that's on me. I want to thank the fans. I want to thank the media. I want to thank the city.

"It was spectacular. I loved every second of it. And I wish the new group nothing but success. Morgan Rielly has been here the whole time. I can't thank him enough. And all the players I got an opportunity to coach, it's been fantastic and I wish them nothing but success."

October is about more than pumpkins and playoff baseball.

The NHL returns on Wednesday as defending Stanley Cup champions the St Louis Blues prepare to raise their banner and open the regular season against the Washington Capitals.

But St Louis' battle for a repeat will not be the most intriguing narrative to watch unfold.

Here are three storylines to follow heading into the 2019 NHL season.

 

How will Lightning rebound after disastrous exit last season?

The Tampa Bay Lightning tied the league record for the most wins in a season with 62, averaged 3.96 goals per game – the highest mark since 1996 – and tallied an impressive 30 road victories to dominate the regular season. But a shocking first-round exit from the playoffs after being swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets left Tampa Bay dismayed and confused. The Lightning had previously been eliminated in Game 6 and Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and the Capitals in 2018. Still, expectations remain high for the Lightning with Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman locked in. The team just need to find a way to overcome their postseason woes.

Can Canada-based teams stay relevant amid Stanley Cup drought?

It has been a while since Lord Stanley took a trip north of the border. In fact, it has been more than 25 years since the Montreal Canadiens last won the championship in 1993. But Canadian teams have showed signs of progress in recent years, and just last season the Calgary Flames won the Western Conference regular-season title, the Winnipeg Jets finished second in their division and the Toronto Maple Leafs finished with 100 points while also making the playoffs. There is reason to believe all three teams could return to the postseason and perhaps even be joined by the Canadiens or the Vancouver Canucks.

What's next in Seattle expansion?

The NHL's newest team will not hit the ice until the 2021-22 season, but there is plenty of work to be done before then. The club were recently awarded an AHL expansion franchise in Palm Springs, California, and general manager Ron Francis added Ricky Olczyk as the club's assistant general manager to compliment director of hockey administration Alexandra Mandrycky. Francis also announced the addition of several scouts, including Cammi Granato, who became the NHL's first female scout. But the team still need to add more personnel while the arena at Seattle Center undergoes redevelopment. Oh, they also need a name.

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