TORONTO — Forty years after the “Miracle on Ice,” a 42-year-old Zamboni driver carved out a miraculous chapter in NHL history.
David Ayres entered Saturday night’s game as the emergency backup goaltender for the Carolina Hurricanes, and stopped eight of 10 shots to get credit for a 6-3 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It was awesome. I had the time of my life out there,” Ayres told the Sportsnet broadcast after the game. He was voted the game’s No. 1 star, ESPN reported.
Ayres became only the third emergency goaltender in the modern era to play in the NHL, according to The Hockey News. He set several records during the game, logging 28:41 in net -- the most ice time by an emergency goalie in NHL history. Ayres also became the first emergency goalie to win a game.
At 42 years, 194 days, Ayres became the oldest goaltender to win a regular-season debut, according to The Hockey News. That topped the previous record set by Hugh Lehman, who won his debut at 41 years and 21 days with the Chicago Blackhawks during the 1926-27 season, the website reported.
“I had a couple text messages that said ‘get in there,'” Ayres told reporters after the game. “I hadn’t seen the footage. I was in the media room by myself and a guy comes in and said, ‘Get going.’ Then I walked down the tunnel. It was wild.”
Ayres took over the net midway through the second period after injuries to James Reimer and Petr Mrazek, the Toronto Sun reported. After a shaky start, allowing goals on the first two shots he faced, Ayres stopped Toronto’s final eight attempts to preserve the victory.
“Obviously, that second period was a little shaky, but I told the boys in the dressing room, ‘Once we come out for the third, I’ll be settled down and ready to win this one,’” Ayres said afterward on the CBC Sports broadcast.
Ayres had a kidney transplant in 2004, with his mother donating the organ, ESPN reported. His last competitive action was an eight-game stint with the Norwood Vipers of the Allan Cup Hockey League. Ayres went 0-8 and allowed 58 goals with a .777 save percentage, ESPN reported.
Ayres has practiced with the Maple Leafs and their minor-league affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, the Sun reported. He has been a maintenance man and Zamboni driver at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena for the past three seasons, the newspaper reported.
“I’ve been on this ice many times without fans,” Ayres told reporters. “Put fans in the mix and it’s a whole different game, obviously. But, hey, once in a lifetime. I’ll take it.”
Per NHL rules, Ayres was paid $500 for the game, and he was allowed to keep his game-worn jersey, ESPN reported. He previously served as an emergency goaltender for the Marlies in 2016 and with the Charlotte Checkers three weeks ago, The Hockey News reported.
Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour’s instructions to Ayers when he entered the game were simple.
“I said ‘Stop the puck, buddy.’ We told him we were going to go after it in the third," Brind’Amour told The Hockey News. "We’re not gonna sit back. We were going to try to protect you but you’re going to have to make a save or two and get us the win. That’s exactly what happened.”
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