David Ayres’ memorable NHL debut yet to sink in

David Ayres’ night was over. Life around him had quieted down. There were no more media requests, his pads were packed up and he was heading home on the hour-long drive from Scotiabank Arena.

But when the emergency backup goalie who is the talk of the hockey world arrived home, he faced his toughest challenge of the weekend: falling asleep. The adrenaline was still going and the 42-year-old Ayres was still thinking about what he had accomplished.

We all the know the story by now. Ayres, the Toronto area EBUG was called into action against the Maple Leafs Saturday night when Hurricanes lost James Reimer and Petr Mrazek to injury. After allowing two goals on the first two shots he faced, he settled down and made eight saves to help Carolina to a remarkable 6-3 win.

Since Saturday night Ayres has been on a media whirlwind with interviews all day Sunday before flying to New York for more.

“It hasn’t really sunk in too much,” Ayres told NBC Sports Monday morning before appearing on the TODAY show. “I haven’t really had a chance to even watch [the game]. I see clips here and there. …  I guess when I watch it it’ll sink in a little bit more. It’s been crazy the last 36 hours. This has been a lot of fun, and I’m sure it’ll sink in soon.”

Ayres, who’s been an EBUG for three years, said that when he checked his phone following the game he has 160 text messages waiting for him. One of those texts was from Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins, who coached the AHL Marlies when Ayres helped out as their practice goalie. 

“Everyone was proud, right? So that was cool,” he said.

Another unexpected message Ayres received was from Scott Foster, who played 14 minutes for the Blackhawks in another EBUG situation in March 2018. Foster stopped all seven shots he faced to preserve the victory over the Jets.

“Scott said, ‘When I was watching you, I was standing up in my living room, I was clapping, I was cheering for you,'” said Ayres, who also spoke Jorge Alves, the Hurricanes equipment manager who played seven seconds of a game in 2017. “He said he was so happy.”

The Hurricanes, known to work quick in these viral situations, announced they would start selling Ayres shirseys with proceeds benefiting a kidney foundation, something he wanted to ensure was part of the deal. Ayres had a kidney transplant in 2004 and his mom was the donor.

“If it wasn’t for my kidney transplant I wouldn’t have been able to do this right now,” said Ayres, who’s full-time job is maintenance operations manager at Mattamy Athletic Centre, which we once knew as Maple Leafs Gardens. “That was the one thing I wanted to do was to make sure there was a kidney foundation in and around Raleigh that we could do something for and hopefully reach somebody and give them step towards where they want to be after they have a transplant or a kidney disease.”

This is the start of a busy week for Ayres. After Monday’s media tour he’ll head to Raleigh where he’ll serve as the Hurricanes Siren Sounder before Tuesday’s game against the Stars. The city will also honor him by proclaiming it “David Ayres Day.” That comes on the heels of North Carolina governor Roy Cooper Tweeting he’s ready to make the netminder an honorary citizen of the state.

Oh, and the stick Ayres used is heading to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Pretty, pretty good weekend.

MORE: David Ayres visits the TODAY show

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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