THW’s Goalie News: Ayres’ Legend & Kuemper’s Return

Saturday was one of those days that reminded us all why we love the sport of hockey. A crazy and historic day in the National Hockey League started with Alex Ovechkin’s 700th goal, but by the end of the night, everyone was talking about what unfolded in Toronto.

David Ayres Becomes a Legend

Nobody thought anything could possibly overshadow Ovechkin’s big moment in New Jersey, but a once-in-a-lifetime story out of Toronto did just that!

The Carolina Hurricanes have benefitted from their goaltending tandem of James Reimer and Peter Mrazek all season long. If one struggles or goes down to injury, they have another capable veteran to fill in, but what happens if they both get hurt?

That’s exactly what happened against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night. Reimer left the game in the first period after defenseman Jacob Slavin was pushed into him. Mrazek had to leave 11:19 into the second period after he made contact with Kyle Clifford while trying to play the puck outside of his crease.

With nowhere else to turn, the Hurricanes suited up David Ayres, a 42-year-old Zamboni driver for the Toronto Marlies. After giving up goals to John Tavares and Pierre Engvall on the first two shots he faced, Ayres stopped the next eight shots to earn a 6-3 victory.

“These guys were awesome,” Ayres said after his whirlwind night. “Actually, the spot that settled me down, one of the guys (Erik Haula) said to me, ‘Just have fun. We don’t care if you let 10 goals in.’ That settled me right down and it was great.”

The Maple Leafs, in the thick of the playoff race, only managed to get seven shots on goal during the third period. Their fans have had to endure a lot over the years, but losing to a Zamboni driver who works for the organization has to be near the top of the list of embarrassing moments.

At 42 years, 194 days, Ayres became the oldest goaltender in NHL history to win his regular-season debut. He also became the second-oldest player in league history, regardless of his position, to make his NHL debut. Lester Patrick with 43 years, 80 days when he played for the New York Rangers on March 20, 1927.

This wasn’t the first time Ayres had been used as an emergency goalie for the Hurricanes organization his season. Back on Feb. 1, he dressed for the Charlotte Checkers in an American Hockey League game.

Following the game, the Hurricanes put t-shirts up for sale with Ayres’ name and number 90 on the back. They are making sure he will get a cut of the royalties from the sale as well as donating a portion of the proceeds to a kidney foundation of his choosing. Ayres is a kidney transplant survivor just in case his story wasn’t great enough.

What’s Next for the Hurricanes?

While last night was an amazing story, the Hurricanes have to face the reality that they don’t have a goaltender right now. Head coach Rod Brind’Amour said that Reimer would be “out for a while” and wasn’t quite sure how much time Mrazek would miss. To make matters worse, defenseman Brett Pesce will miss a significant amount of time with an upper-body injury suffered in the second period.

Carolina Hurricanes James Reimer
Reimer will be out “for a while.” (Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports)

On the plus side, at least the timing of the injuries happened at a good time with the NHL trade deadline on Monday. Had this happened later in the week, the Hurricanes could be in real trouble. This gives general manager Don Waddell some time to try to work on a deal for a veteran goaltender. You can bet he has called the Chicago Blackhawks, who have a pair of netminders that could be available in Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner.

In the meantime, the team will turn to the AHL for a short-term solution. Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic is reporting that the Hurricanes will recall both Anton Forsberg and Alex Nedeljkovic from the Checkers.

Forsberg has 45 games of NHL experience with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Blackhawks. He won a Calder Cup back in 2016. Nedeljkovic won the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award last season for being voted as the AHL’s top goaltender. He played great in the postseason, guiding the Checkers to a Calder Cup championship.

Kuemper Nearing Return

While the Hurricanes are worrying about losing goaltenders, the Arizona Coyotes are close to getting one back. Head coach Rick Tocchet told reporters on Saturday that injured netminder Darcy Kuemper could return as early as Tuesday against the Florida Panthers.

“He’s a possibility for the next game, so that’s good news,” Tocchet said. “We’ll get a practice in with him. He’s got to get a good, full practice in. He’ll get one Monday for sure, and then we’ll talk about Tuesday for him. Maybe there’s a possibility he’ll play.”

Arizona Coyotes Darcy Kuemper
Kuemper could be back with the Coyotes this week. (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

Kuemper is 15-8-2 on the season with a 2.17 goals-against average and .929 save percentage and was named to the Pacific Division All-Star team. He never made the trip to St. Louis for the festivities due to a lower-body injury suffered on Dec. 19.

He was back between the pipes for the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL on Saturday night. Kuemper gave up two goals on 28 shots during his conditioning stint start.

The Coyotes currently hold the top wild card spot in the Western Conference and are currently just four points behind the Vegas Golden Knights for first place in the Pacific Division.

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