Zamboni driver, age 42, becomes oldest goalie to win regular season debut

By Gabrielle Goodwin || Managing Editor

Photo courtesy of torontosun.com

David Ayres thought his days of playing competitive hockey were long over when he underwent a kidney transplant 15 years ago. It turns out, however, that he had one more game left, and this game would be played in front of more than 18,000 people. On Saturday, February 22nd, David Ayres, a 42-year-old Zamboni driver for the Toronto Marlies, was forced into action as an emergency goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes due to injury of both Hurricane goalies, James Reimer and Petr Mrazek. 

In an interview with TODAY, Ayres said that he initially thought it was a joke when he was told to suit up, as he would be filling in as an emergency goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes against the Toronto Maple Leafs. “Actually, I did think it was a prank,” the 42-year-old father of three said. “When the guy first came into the room, he said, ‘Get your stuff on, we’re going out on the ice.’ I said, ‘Are you serious?”’ (today.com). 

The NHL has a rule mandating that home teams have an emergency goalie in attendance who is available to both teams. Ayres is the director of operations at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, a local arena in Toronto, where one of his jobs is to drive the Zamboni to smooth the ice in the rink. On Saturday night, however, his job was quite different when he came to the rescue for the Hurricanes. 

Entering the game in the second period with the Hurricanes leading 3-1, Ayres had a shaky start, allowing two quick goals, but he quickly settled down with a save in the second period and seven more in the third. “I was confident until I hit the ice, and then I got terrified,” Ayres said. “One of the players came down to me, and he said, ‘Just relax, this is gonna be fun for you, have a good time with it. We don’t care how many goals you let in, and let’s just have fun” (today.com). 

Ayres shut out Toronto in the third period to help clench a 6-3 win for the Hurricanes. By the end of the game, the crowd was in a frenzy, and Ayres received a standing ovation by the Toronto crowd despite beating their team. On February 22nd, Ayres became the oldest goalie in NHL history to win his regular season debut at 42 years and 194 days old. He was paid $500, and his stick was sent to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. 

Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin has named February 25th “David Ayres Day,” and the Hurricanes are selling special No. 90 Ayres jerseys with proceeds going to a kidney transplant foundation in his name. 

Ayres became just the third emergency goalie to ever play in an NHL game in the modern era, and the first since Scott Foster was used for a 14-minute stretch with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2018. Ayres said Foster sent him a text message the following day congratulating him on his performance (today.com). In no other sport can an average Joe arrive at work expecting nothing, only to leave it a hero.

Senior Gabrielle Goodwin is the Managing Editor. Her email is ggoodwin@fandm.edu.

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