Zamboni Driver Subs as NHL Goalie, Becomes a Hockey Hero

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By Michael Burns

On Saturday, something very unusual happened during an NHL hockey game.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were playing the Carolina Hurricanes when the Hurricanes’ starting goalie, James Reimer, had to leave the game due to injury. Shortly after that, their back-up goalie, Petr Mrazek, was also knocked out of the game after he collided with a Leafs player.

The only option Carolina had was to bring in an ‘emergency goalie.’

They brought in 42-year-old David Ayres, who occasionally practices with the Leafs and the Toronto Marlies (an American Hockey League team).

Ayres’ full-time job is driving the Zamboni for the Toronto Marlies. (A Zamboni is a vehicle that is driven around an ice rink to make the ice smooth.)

Ayres has been the emergency goalie-in-waiting at Scotiabank Arena for the past three seasons, but he had never before been brought into an NHL game.

The stakes were high for both teams, who were fighting for a playoff spot with only a month to go, so every point mattered. Carolina had been winning the game at that point, by a score of 4 to 1, and bringing in an amateur goalie halfway through the game could spell disaster.

As he took the ice at about the halfway point of the second period, it was obvious that Ayres was not a seasoned, professional goalie. However, what was so amazing was the reaction of the Hurricane players when he made his way onto the ice. They went over to him and tapped him on the goalie pads, with big smiles on their faces, giving him words of encouragement. One of them told him not to worry how many goals he let in–just to have fun.

The first two shots on his net went in and the score became 4 to 3. It looked like the game was going to be lopsided for the Leafs. However, Carolina made it through the rest of the second period and during the intermission, Ayres reassured the Hurricanes players that he wouldn’t let them down.

In the third period, the Hurricanes started to push back, scoring another two goals, blocking shots and working together to shut down or reduce the number of chances the Leafs had to shoot on net.

Ayres helped the team win the game by making eight saves in the third period. With less than a second to go in the game, a Leafs player shot a puck at Carolina’s net, which Ayres caught in his glove.

Carolina won, 6 to 3, over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ayres was named first star of the game. Even the Leafs fans were rooting for him and gave him a standing ovation.

The goalie stick Ayres used in the game will be put on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame.


In the second period of the game, Ayres let in two goals and it looked like the Leafs were going to win easily. What do you think Ayres was thinking in the dressing room after the second period? What do you think he told himself, in order to do better after that?

Carolina had to bring in a goalie who was not used to playing hockey at a professional level. This could have been very discouraging for the Carolina players. But they were not discouraged. What, in this article, tells you how they reacted? How do you think their reaction helped Ayres?

Why do you think Carolina won the game? (Was it Ayres, the playing of everyone on the team, their attitude, or something else?)

How do you think the Maple Leafs players and coach felt after their loss? How do you think their fans felt?

Fifteen years ago, David Ayres had a kidney transplant, after his own stopped working. His mother, Mary, donated one of her kidneys to him. At that time, he never thought he’d play hockey again, never mind become the hero of a winning NHL game. Discuss the concept of a “comeback” as it relates to this story.


This CTV News article includes an interview with David Ayres about his experience.