Zamboni driver wins first NHL game after being tapped as emergency goalie
A 42-year-old Zamboni driver won his first NHL game Saturday after being tapped to play as an emergency goalie for the opposing team.
Dave Ayres stepped in for the Carolina Hurricanes after both the team’s goalies had to leave the game with injuries, prompting the Zamboni driver to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the home team.
The 42-year-old helped the Hurricanes in their 6-3 win by blocking eight of the 10 shots on goal against him in the last 30 minutes of the game.
Ayres told reporters after the game that he had been a designated backup goalie in the past, but this was the first time he had ever been forced to play.
“I was nervous for the whole second period, as you can tell I couldn’t stop a puck if I had to in the second,” Ayres said. “But I told the boys, ‘When I come out in the third I’ll be ready to go.'”
The Carolina players just told the Zamboni driver to just have fun and not stress out about the goals, Ayres said. The kind reception he got from the team and crowds is what he will remember about the night, Ayres recounted to reporters.
“These guys, how great they were to me, how fun,” Ayres said. “The crowd in Toronto is unreal, even though I was on the other team they were so receptive and so awesome. Every time I made a save I could hear them cheering for me.”
Ayres is the second-oldest player to make their professional debut in NHL history, after Lester Patrick in 1927, according to the NHL.
In addition to driving the Zamboni and filling in during practices for the Leafs, Ayres said he coaches an amateur hockey team. He is also a kidney transplant survivor.
The Carolina Hurricanes announced on its Twitter account that it would sell a player T-shirt with Ayres’ name on it.
“Dave will be getting royalties, but we are also working with him to identify a kidney foundation that will receive a portion of the proceeds,” the team said Saturday.
Jason Muzzatti, Carolina Hurricanes goal-tending coach, told NHL.com that he gave Ayres a lot of credit for staying so calm under pressure.
“It was great to see. I heard his background, someone who has received a kidney transplant,” Muzzatti said. “That’s phenomenal. Just a happy, good-natured goalie like most of us are.”