“It was awesome,” Ayres told Sportsnet. “Obviously time of my life out there. I’ve been on this ice many times without fans; put fans in the mix it’s a whole different game obviously, but, hey once in a lifetime, I’ll take it.”
Ayres, at 42 years 194 days, became the oldest goaltender in league history to win his regular season debut. In the days since Saturday’s win, he has become a media darling. In a “Today” show appearance Monday, he shed a few tears during a phone call with his mother, who donated a kidney to him in 2004.
“I always was very proud of you from the beginning,” she told him, “and this has just made me so extremely proud, I have no words. I couldn’t sleep the first night.”
That elicited a teary, “Come on, Mom,” from Ayres, who went on to talk about how he was feeling as he headed for the goal.
“I was confident until I hit the ice and then I got terrified,” he admitted. “You get out there and the crowd all of a sudden goes wild and I’m wearing the Toronto Maple Leafs colors with a Carolina Hurricanes jersey on. Everyone was kind of in shock and I was as well. I just wanted to make sure I got on the ice and didn’t fall down.”
As the emergency goalie, he was available to either team.
(NHL teams dress two goaltenders and typically would call on a minor league goalie due to injury or other emergency. If logistics make that impossible, teams are allowed to dress and play any available goaltending option, which is why local goalies with ties to the team or the sport are often on call, sometimes winding up on the bench and — in extremely rare cases — on the ice. “It’s definitely a unique situation in sports that really only happens in hockey,” Eric Semborski once told the Associated Press. Semborski, a programs coordinator and youth hockey coach at the Philadelphia Flyers’ practice facility, suited up for the Chicago Blackhawks several years ago when one of their goalies required an emergency appendectomy.)
Ayres was biding his time when he realized there was a need in the net. “I had a couple text messages that told me ‘get in there,’ and I hadn’t seen the footage — I was in the media room, kind of by myself,” he said. “The guy comes in, [says] ‘Get going, get ready.’ … It was wild. It was pretty fun.”
During the second intermission, he got his bearings. “I told the boys in the dressing room, ‘Once we come out for the third, I’ll be settled down and ready to win this one,’ ” Ayres told CBC Sports.
Ayres’s hopes for a hockey career effectively ended with his kidney transplant. He said he hopes to use his newfound fame to help others.
He got $500 for his effort Sunday and he gets to keep the jersey, with his stick headed for the Hockey Hall of Fame. After making the last save, he was mobbed by his teammates.
“These guys were awesome,” he said. “Actually, the spot that settled me down, one of the guys [Erik Haula] said to me, ‘Just have fun. We don’t care if you let 10 goals in.’ That settled me right down, and it was great.”
Ayres is headed to Raleigh, where Tuesday has been proclaimed “David Ayres Day” and he’ll sound the siren before the Hurricanes play the Dallas Stars that night in PNC Arena. A shirt bearing his name is already a hot item, with proceeds going to a kidney foundation in the Raleigh area.
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