Sometimes sports delivers a plotline that could not be scripted.
The Carolina Hurricanes faced some severe adversity Saturday night, and as a result the Toronto Maple Leafs ended up hiding their faces after the game. In a series of events that would not be too believable in a motion picture, an unknown player rose to prominence in a way few could anticipate. It is the type of story that could only come out of the NHL, and it is a great one.
The Hurricanes came into Toronto after playing the night before against the New York Rangers, so as frequently happens the team started with backup goalie James Reimer taking the net. Following a collision in front of the goal, Reimer left the game after just over six minutes of playing time. Then in the second period starter Petr Mrazek, who replaced him, was run into by a Toronto forward and left the game with an upper-body injury. The Hurricanes were now without a goalie.
In the NHL there is a standing rule that the home team keeps an emergency goalie available for games in case either team was in such a need. Saturday the Maple Leafs had the Zamboni driver for the local minor league affiliate team, the Toronto Marlies, tabbed for the role, 42-year-old Dave Ayres. A player with only a handful of minor league appearances Ayres also works with the Maple Leafs on occasion at practices. With a little over half of the game remaining, Ayres became an NHL player, with a jersey quickly pressed for him and using a borrowed helmet from the Marlies.
Understandably nervous Ayres allowed a goal on the first two shots he faced, but the Hurricanes withstood enough to score a goal and hold a lead into the second intermission. In the final period Ayres settled in, and the Hurricanes played an offensively aggressive gameplan that limited Toronto’s opportunities. With a familiarity of the shooters from the home team Ayres stopped all six shots he faced in the third period — wearing a helmet sporting the Toronto logo — while Carolina scored twice more, going on to win the road contest.
Ayres had his career interrupted 15 years ago when he underwent a kidney transplant, remaining a regular fixture in the Toronto area serving a number of roles involving the sport. He now is in the record books, becoming the first-ever emergency backup goalie in league history to record a victory. Last season the Chicago Blackhawks had to resort to inserting Scott Foster into a game under similar conditions. Foster stopped all seven shots he faced as the Blackhawks went on to win, but based on the scoring ahead of his fourteen minutes of ice time the starter of that game, Corey Crawford, was credited with the victory.
Ayres set another League record with his appearance last night — At 42 years of age, he becomes the oldest goalie to record a win in his NHL debut. This breaks a 92-year-old record. Adding to the amazement is a number of ironies in all of this. There was one other time that Dave served as an emergency backup. On February 1, he was pressed into service for a Toronto Marlies game, playing in net for the Charlotte Checkers. Charlotte is the minor league affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes
In his truncated minor league career Ayers posted an 0-8 record. This means that in his history as a player Ayers has only ever posted one win — and it was in the NHL. As a result, he has managed to make history and lands in the NHL record books. Some players can perform in the league for years without achieving those accomplishments. Dave Ayers managed to have quite an impressive career…last night.