David Ayres reflects on his memorable night: ‘It’s surreal still’

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A year ago Monday night, the hockey world first learned about David Ayres.

The Scotiabank Arena emergency backup goalie was forced into action after the Hurricanes lost both Petr Mrazek and James Reimer to injury during their game against the Maple Leafs. Ayres fared well, stopping eight out of 10 shots and helping Carolina to a 6-3 win.

It was an historic night for the NHL and Ayres, who said he’s only rewatched the game a few times. He became the oldest goalie (42 years, 194 days) to make and win his NHL debut.

All this time later, Ayres still gets recognized after his 28:41 of NHL action on Feb. 22, 2020. Even now, during a pandemic with half of his face covered, he’ll notice people pointing in his direction.

“It seems like it’s kind of surreal still,” he told NBC Sports. “It’s almost like it didn’t happen and then everyone kind of reminds you of it all the time. Every time I walk through my house and see stuff that people have sent me and kept and hung up, it always reminds me of that day.”

Following the game, Ayres went on a whirlwind media tour in New York City. He became an honorary Carolina citizen thanks to Gov. Roy Cooper and some of his equipment went on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

[MORE: David Ayres gets own hockey card, stick on display at Hall of Fame]

If you’re inside the Ayres house, you’ll notice a shelf he built that features a number of items, including his Hurricanes jersey, a signed bottle of wine from Rod Brind’Amour, and a signed stick from James Reimer. Also on display are pieces of art sent to him from fans.

Ayres won’t be in Carolina Monday night when he’s honored before the Hurricanes’ game against the Lightning. He did record a video that will be played prior to puck drop and remains in touch with members of the team and television analyst Tripp Tracey.

“I would love to be down there for this one, but hopefully next year I’ll be able to get down there for the two-year [anniversary],” Ayres said.

While he became known as the “Zamboni Driver,” Ayres has moved on from his job as building operations manager at Mattamy Athletic Centre. He is now an account manager for CIMCO Refrigeration where he oversees the Toronto area. There still is an occasional Zamboni ride, but it’s no longer part of his daily duties.

Ayres has also kept busy away from the ice. A kidney transplant recipient himself, he helped the Kidney Foundation of Canada promote an emergency fund last April that raised $100,000 in its first month. He also participated in Green Shirt Day, an initiative in honor of Humboldt Broncos bus crash victim Logan Boulet, that encourage people to register as donors, and has promoted mental health charities.

There is also the potential of Ayres, or at least, his story, appearing on the big screen. As we saw with the John Scott All-Star Game experience, the David Ayres Story may be coming to a theatre near you after he was contacted by late night host James Corden to develop a movie.

A David Ayres follow-up appearance?

The EBUG eligibility requirements were discussed at the NHL general manager’s meetings shortly after Ayres’ night, but no changes were made. With hockey playing through a pandemic and increased roster moves, teams are allowed to carry three goalies between their main team and taxi squad this season.

For now, Ayres isn’t sure if he’ll remain the Scotiabank Arena EBUG when normal times return. But if given the opportunity again, he’ll be ready.

“I would do it in a heartbeat,” he said.

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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.