The emergency NHL goalie did what every sports fan wishes they could do every time they watch the best of the best play
By Ken Reed
I can’t get enough of the highly improbable David Ayres story.
A 42-year-old kidney transplant recipient – and until recently a Zamboni driver for a minor league hockey team – who hadn’t played in a hockey game, at any level, for five years, enters a National Hockey League game in the second period, stops eight shots, gets the win in a nationally-televised game with playoff implications, and is named first star of the game.
Are you kidding me? Would Hollywood even try to stretch the bounds of reality that much?
Ayres is an NHL emergency goalie, a position a lot of sports fans didn’t even know existed until Ayres fairy tale story swept the nation on the night of Feb. 22, 2020, the 40th anniversary of another miracle on ice, Team U.S.A.’s dramatic victory over Russia in the 1980 Olympics. I kid you not. The David Ayers Miracle In the Nets happened 40 years after the Miracle On Ice.
“Right now, it’s kind of hard to put into words,” said Ayres after the game.
I know what you mean dude, it’s hard to find the right words to describe how cool a story this is.
Ayres did what every former athlete who hit their sports ceiling long before the professional level dreams of doing. He did what sports fans, young and old, wish they could do every time they go to the ballpark, stadium or arena to watch the best of the best play their favorite sport.
He got in the game! The “no way that could happen” circumstance actually happened.
Marty Klinkenberg of the Globe and Mail described it this way:
“Imagine that 20 years ago you were a fair baseball player. Now, while at a major-league game, all 10 pitchers on one side get injured and you are summoned from the stands because there is nobody else. And then you end up winning.”
The home team in the NHL must have an emergency goalie on the premises ready to go in case something freaky happens during the game – like it did on Saturday night in a game between the hometown Toronto Maple Leafs and the visiting Carolina Hurricanes.
The emergency goalie must be prepared to play for either team. Ayres, who lives in Toronto, has skated on occasion at practice with the hometown Maple Leafs but he had never met any of the Hurricanes players before going on the ice to play goalie for them in the middle of a critical NHL game.
The two goalies on the Hurricanes roster both got hurt. So Ayres, who starts the game in street clothes, gets the call.
“You’re in the game.”
Ayres throws on his equipment, a Hurricanes jersey and takes the ice with 8:41 left in the second period. He quickly gives up a couple goals to cut the Carolina lead to 4-3. That’s the score as the second period ends. He goes to the locker room and his new teammates keep encouraging him and telling him to relax.
“Don’t worry about letting shots in.”
In the third period, Ayres stops seven shots and his new Carolina teammates play inspired defense around him. Final score: 6-3 Hurricanes.
With the win, Ayres became the oldest goalie in NHL history to win his regular-season debut. His compensation for his Cinderella effort is $500 (per his emergency goalie contract) and being allowed to keep the jersey he wore in the game and the puck he snatched out of the air seconds before the final horn went off.
After the game, Ayres’ wife Sarah tweeted, “I am the happiest, proudest woman on the planet because my human got to live out his ultimate dream.”
But there actually might be one woman on the planet who is happier and more proud than Sarah: Ayres’ mom.
“David, I always was very proud of you from the beginning,” Ayres’ mom Mary said. “This has just made me so extremely proud. I have no words. I couldn’t sleep.”
Mary was speaking Monday by video link on NBC’s Today show, while David, a guest on the show, listened on the set, wiping tears away.
Mary was David’s kidney donor back in 2004.
This story simply can’t get any cooler.
— Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans, a sports reform project. He is the author of The Sports Reformers, Ego vs. Soul in Sports, and How We Can Save Sports.
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Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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