david ayres

Toronto zamboni driver David Ayres soars to global fame after unexpected NHL debut

Zamboni driver-turned-Carolina Hurricanes backup goalie David Ayres, who made his NHL debut this weekend at the tender age of 42, is more than a shining reminder that anything is possible: he's Canada's latest celebrity export.

Less than 48 hours after being tapped as an emergency goaltender during Saturday night's Toronto Maple Leafs game at Scotiabank Arena — and then stopping eight consecutive shots for the away team — Ayres is a full-blown media sensation.

The Whitby, Ontario, native appears to be in New York City right now doing the U.S. talk show circuit, with appearances on The Today Show and Good Morning America already under his belt as of 10 a.m. on Monday morning.

It all started with the consecutive injuries of regular Carolina Hurricanes goaltenders James Reimer and Petr Mrazek on Saturday night.

You see, the NHL requires every home team to have an emergency backup goalie on hand during games, for use by either team, in the case that one is left without a goaltender.

Ayres has been that person for the past three years at Scotiabank Arena, though his regular job involves ice resurfacing and arena maintenance for the Maple Leafs' AHL affiliate, The Toronto Marlies.

When his big moment came this weekend, Ayres initially thought it was a joke.

After all, only two emergency goalies (Scott Foster and Jorge Alves) had ever actually played in an NHL game prior to Saturday night.

"I did think it was a prank," said Ayres on The Today Show this morning.

"When the guy first came into the room he said 'get your stuff on, we're going out on the ice' and I said 'are you serious?' and he said 'yeah, no, take your time, but you're going out!"

Ayres suited up for the Carolina Hurricanes roughly halfway through the game and, after letting two shots through, wound up stopping all  eight of the others that came his way.

His performance was credited for helping the Hurricanes to a 6-3 victory over the Maple Leafs, and he was subsequently named the game's first star.

Ayres is now the oldest goalie in NHL history to win his regular-season debut game, and the stick he used during Saturday night's game will be displayed in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"It was wild, it was fun," said Ayres to reporters following his win. "The crowd in Toronto was unreal. Even though I was on the other team they were so receptive... Every time I made a save I could hear them cheering for me."

Ayres was paid $500 for the game as per the NHL's rules, and was also allowed to keep the jersey he wore during the game.

The Hurricanes were over-the-moon with how he played, greeting Ayres with a champagne shower in their dressing room after the game and are flying him to Carolina to sound their siren on Tuesday.

"The man, the myth, the legend," wrote the Hurricanes on Twitter of Ayres on Saturday night.

The team's Twitter bio also currently reads "DAVID AYRES THE GOAT."

In the days since his miraculous NHL debut, Ayres has captured the attention of people all over the world — and the more of his story that comes out, the more interested everyone is.

"There would have been a Tragically Hip song about David Ayres. In Gord Downie's memory, somebody needs to write it," commented one fan on Twitter.

Others are joking that perhaps the Leafs should hire Ayres as a goalie to help them win more often — though Ayres himself told TMZ that he isn't interested in being an NHL player.

As it turns out, Ayres had been playing hockey his entire life up until 2004, when he became ill and required a kidney transplant.

It's been 15 years since Ayres received a kidney from his mother, and eight years since he started filling in as a practice goalie for the Toronto Marlies and the Maple Leafs. 

Both he and his mom appeared on The Today Show this morning.

Ayres now has his own fangirls, Wikipedia entry and an Elite Prospects profile that's pulled in more than 100,000 views over the past week alone.

Those who want to celebrate this Canadian heritage moment forever can now even buy an official David Ayres Hurricanes shirt.

Ayers himself will be getting royalties from sales of the shirts, according to the Hurricanes, who are also working with him "to identify a kidney foundation that will receive a portion of the proceeds."

"It's stories like this that inspire young athletes to keep chasing their dream. Great work on the Hurricanes on appreciating Dave Ayres on his undefeated NHL record," wrote one fan this morning in response to news of the commemorative garment.

"You know I already bought my shirt!" 

Lead photo by

Carolina Hurricanes

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