What if we actually put the Zamboni driver in the net?

Maintenance man and Zamboni driver David Ayres saw a lifelong NHL dream come true Saturday night: He played goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes. 

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Carolina Hurricanes emergency goaltender David Ayres (90) during a break in the action against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena, on Feb. 22, 2020.

I’m not a huge hockey fan. But this past weekend, I stumbled across one of the best pro-sports stories ever. 

Here’s the set up. The National Hockey League (NHL) requires every home team to have an emergency backup goalie. It’s rare that they’re ever called upon, since most teams have two goalies. But on Saturday night, just eight minutes into the second period, both of the Carolina Hurricanes goalies had left the game due to injuries.

You see where this is going, right?

The designated emergency goaltender was the 42-year-old Zamboni driver for Toronto’s minor league team. That’s right, David Ayres, the guy who buffs the ice between periods, was put in the Hurricanes' net. Did I mention that the Maple Leafs sign his paychecks and he’d never before had played in an NHL game?

Within minutes, the Maple Leafs had fired three shots, producing two goals. Disaster loomed for the Hurricanes. 

 “I was nervous the whole second period,” Ayers told reporters later. “I couldn’t stop a puck if I had too.” But he regrouped, and told his newfound teammates before the third period, “I’m ready to go.” True to his word, Ayres stopped all seven shots  on goal during the third period. The Hurricanes won 6-3. 

And NHL history was made: Ayres is now the oldest goalie to win his regular-season debut. 

Now, this wasn’t the first time Ayres had slipped on a goalie mask. He often puts some time in the crease during practices with the Toronto Marlies, the minor league team and occasionally in practices with the Maple Leafs. But that doesn’t make his achievement any less epic.

After the game, Ayres wore an ear-to-ear grin: “It was awesome!” he exclaimed. How did he plan to celebrate? “Go home, relax ... hang up my jersey and look at it every day.” 

The moral of the story: Never give up on your dream. 

And, yes, this has Disney screenplay written all over it. 

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