Grab the remote. Change the channel. There’s an emergency goalie situation in Toronto.
The Feb. 22 edition of Hockey Night in Canada between the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs featured one of those moments that’s able to pause Hockey Twitter’s bickering and bantering and unite all fans under one front – an emergency goalie appearance.
Hurricanes goalies James Reimer and Petr Mrazek both left Saturday’s game due to injuries, but there was still half a hockey game left to play, and the Hurricanes were out of options. Behind the scenes at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, the emergency goalie had been summoned to the Carolina crease.
A few minutes later, 42-year-old Mattamy Athletic Centre operations manager and Zamboni driver David Ayres stepped onto ice in a red-and-white ‘Canes jersey.
According to the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, Ayres hadn’t played professional hockey for five years, but accepted the challenge when called upon with 8:41 remaining in the second period.
Facing a firing squad that featured Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner, the Hurricanes rallied in front of Ayres, putting on an inspiring third-period clinic of stifling defense. Ayres stopped eight of 10 shots he faced in the game, sparking the Hurricanes to an improbable 6-3 win.
Ayres Gets All The Praise
The NHL has an emergency goalie rule for cases like this, but very rarely do they actually see the ice. Ayres himself served as an emergency back-up for the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers earlier this month, but never saw game action. When his big moment came Saturday, he was ready.
You can only imagine what was going through his head as he took the ice in front of thousands of bloodthirsty Maple Leafs fans. He occasionally participates with the Maple Leafs in practices, often filling in in goal when need be, but nothing can prepare you for getting thrust into an ultra-high-stakes NHL game.
I thought I’d be nervous if it ever happened. I was nervous for the whole second period… As you could tell, I couldn’t stop a puck if I had to in the second. I told the boys in the intermission, ‘I’ll be ready to go.’ All I thought was, keep breathing nice and slowly, and relax. The shots are going to come. I face these guys all the time – the Leafs – at practice, to be honest.David Ayres, emergency goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes
Thrown into a thrilling, tense situation, it took Ayres a few minutes to shake the jitters out. The Maple Leafs put two goals past Ayres before the end of the second period, but his brand new Hurricane teammates were beside him every step of the way, chatting with him between whistles to calm his nerves, and offering stick taps and fist bumps for assurance.
As the game progressed, it was his opponents who began to play nervously. Take your pick of any of the Maple Leafs’ skaters – they seemed more interested in trying to set up offensive zone cycles and passing plays than unloading on the net. Where Ayres accepted the challenge, the Maple Leafs crumbled under the pressure of becoming that team that lost to an emergency back-up.
There’s never been a story quite like this in the NHL. The Chicago Blackhawks had an emergency goalie, Scott Foster, come into the third period of a 6-2 win on March 29, 2018. He played about 14 minutes, stopping all seven shots he faced. But because he wasn’t in net for the Blackhawks’ game-winning goal, he didn’t get credited with the win. That makes Ayres the only emergency goalie in recent history to column an official National Hockey League win.
Ayres was greeted with a welcoming applause from Maple Leafs fans when he took to the ice. The crowd also cheered for his first touch of the puck, and he even took a lap after the game when he was awarded first-star honors.
Following the exhilarating win, the Hurricanes quickly prepared t-shirts with Ayres’ name and No. 90 on the back. ‘Canes fans looking to get their hands on a memento of history can support the Hurricanes legend, and a to-be-determined kidney foundation in the process. Ayres had a successful kidney transplant in 2004.
Hurricanes’ Response is Right On Brand
If you hadn’t heard the phrase “Rod Brind’Amour hockey” before, you got your lesson watching that third period. The Hurricanes played with such passion and intensity that it almost looked like every Hurricane was channeling their inner Brind’Amour.
On the second half of a back-to-back, with travel, the Hurricanes pumped 47 shots Frederik Andersen’s way, while limiting the Maple Leafs to 26. Facing the third-best power play in the league, the Hurricanes squashed all four Toronto power plays while dominating overall possession.
Relentless forechecking is a staple of the Hurricanes’ style, but they ramped up the pressure to new highs once Ayres took over in net. They continuously denied zone entry attempts, and kept the puck to the outside for almost the entire period, limiting the high-octane Maple Leafs from getting any clean shots on Ayres.
The Hurricanes are a team full of heart, with a special kind of companionship and camaraderie. Their dominant response in the third period should come as no surprise – the passion and determination to play for each other ties right into their identity.
After The Buzz Comes The Hangover
This game will go down in history forever. It will be a night that Ayres and all of the Hurricanes staff and players in that locker room won’t soon forget. But as incredible as the story is, the Hurricanes are facing a troublesome reality.
Speaking to media after the game, Brind’Amour gave brief updates on Reimer and Mrazek, as well as defenseman Brett Pesce, who also left the game in the second period with an injury. “Pesce is out for a long time. That’s devastating for us,” said Brind’Amour. “Reims is going to be out for a while. Petr, I don’t know how long.”
Reimer’s injury came in the first period, when Maple Leafs forward Zach Hyman toppled Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin into the goal. He briefly remained in the game, but was replaced by Mrazek at the next TV timeout. In the second period, Maple Leafs forward Kyle Clifford collided head-on with Mrazek when he came far out of the net to play the puck. That was the end of Mrazek’s night, as Ayres came in to replace him.
The Hurricanes have been flirting with the goalie market as the Feb. 24 trade deadline approaches, and now with both goalies out of commission, that may give general manager Don Waddell an extra push to acquire a goaltender. With Pesce and Dougie Hamilton absent from the blue line, and a glaring void in goal, the Hurricanes are in jeopardy of missing the playoffs after such a successful run last season, and what’s been a hopeful 2019-20 campaign as well.
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Matt Cosman is a Sheridan College print journalism graduate from Oakville, Ontario. I’ve been with THW since 2019 covering the Carolina Hurricanes, one of my favorite childhood teams. When I’m not in my hockey bubble you can probably catch me jamming out on the piano or losing money at the poker tables.