Zamboni driver steps in as emergency goalie for NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes

The description of the Carolina Hurricanes’ Twitter account currently reads, “DAVE AYRES THE GOAT.” It’s a reference to Sunday night’s game, in which 42-year-old Ayres, who is a maintenance worker and Zamboni driver for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, was called into a real NHL game to play emergency goalie. Ayres stepped in for the Hurricanes after the team’s starting and backup goalies could not play due to injuries, and helped secure a 6-3 victory.

It was a night full of up-and-down emotion for anybody in attendance at the Hurricanes vs. Maple Leafs in Toronto, especially Hurricanes fans. The team’s starting goalie James Reimer left the game with 13:50 left in the first period due to a lower body injury and was replaced by Petr Mrazek. He didn’t last long, however, as he left after a collision in the second period.

By rule, an emergency goalie is available to either team in dire situations, and that’s how Ayres was able to make his professional hockey debut. Ayres is a regular practice goalie for the Marlies and has participated in some practices with the Maple Leafs this year, but he has never felt real NHL game speed. His highest level of hockey prior to this week was just Junior B, which is pretty far down the ranks.

When Ayres entered the game, Carolina was up 3-1, so he had a small cushion, but two-goal hockey leads are always perilous. Ayres did let up goals on the first two shots he faced, but he blocked the remaining eight shots to finish the game with an 80% save rate. The Hurricanes went on to win 6-3 and in turn, gave Ayres his first credited NHL W. 

Making the story even more heartwarming is the fact that Ayres thought his hockey playing days were over roughly 15 years go. Ayres received a kidney transplant from his mother when he was 27 and didn’t believe he could continue his passion of hitting the ice.

Read more about the story on ESPN and watch the video highlights below.