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Zamboni driving EBUG David Ayres beats Toronto Maple Leafs

Zamboni driving EBUG David Ayres beats Toronto Maple Leafs

It’s the kind of story you almost can’t believe unless you see it happen before your very eyes.

The Carolina Hurricanes first lost starter James Reimer to injury in the first period of their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Then, they lost backup Petr Mrazek to an injury of his own midway through the second.

In came the on-site emergency back-up goaltender, David Ayres.

42-years old, Ayres is the maintenance operations director at Mattamy Athletic Centre (formerly Maple Leaf Gardens), and has occasionally driven the zamboni for the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League. Sometimes, he suits up as a practice goalie for the Leafs, and he’s been an emergency back-up for AHL teams at the MAC in the past. But his career experience, when he skated out onto the ice at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday night, consisted of a whopping eight games for the Norwood Vipers – a senior men’s league team – in 2014-15.

First, he let in one goal. Then another. A 4-1 game in favor of Carolina was now 4-3, and the Hurricanes – who have been desperately clawing their way into the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference – were staring down the third period boasting a men’s league goalie in their net.

But then they scored one more goal, widening their lead to 5-3. Then came another goal, making it 6-3. And Ayres, who had seemed shaky to start, was able to turn away all seven shots he faced in the third period to help Carolina coast off with a win worth celebrating.

For Ayres, it was a feel-good story as much as anything. The Whitby native is a kidney transplant survivor; he didn’t think he’d ever play hockey again after receiving the donor kidney from his mother in 2004. Now, he’s the oldest goaltender (at 42 years, 194 days) to win his regular season NHL debut. He comes in just under two years shy of the league’s all-time record, set by Lester Patrick when he won his NHL debut in the 1928 Stanley Cup Final at age 44 years, 99 days.

His story almost makes that of Scott Foster, the accountant who shut out the Winnipeg Jets in relief for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2018, seem tame in comparison.

Of course, for the NHL, it’s a stark reminder that the current rules and regulations surrounding emergency back-ups is a bit baffling at the very least.

The league made it a rule, following Hurricanes equipment manager Jorge Alves’ appearance in net for the team in 2017, that team staff cannot be the emergency back-up for a team during a game. So although Alves was at the game (and available to go in for Carolina), the Hurricanes had to use the back-up who was provided by the hometown team – someone who is scheduled to practice with the Leafs the very next day.

A handful of former pro goalies took to social media to point out just how flawed the current system is – even during an incredible win like the one that the Hurricanes managed to pull off.

“The EBUG system is for emergencies only, so why not look at the craziest of emergencies to see how flawed it is,” tweeted Martin Biron. “In the EDM-CGY game where Smith and Talbot fought both goalies were ejected. So came in Koskinen and Rittich. The EBUG has to come down and get dressed to be available to the first team who might need him. Let’s say one of the backups gets hurt, EBUG goes in. What if the other backup gets hurt?? Very unlikely to happen but what if?? You can’t use a team employee because they are not officially an EBUG? So you play with 6 skaters for the rest of the game??”

“Jorge Alves – assistant equipment manager is actually a good goalie who fills in at practice for @canes from time to time. He would be a much better option than this. Unbelievable!” added Brian Boucher

Brian Burke pointed out that as feel-good as the story was, it was a surprisingly sparse resumé hitting the net for Carolina when Toronto offered up Ayres as the EBUG for the game.

“My guess is they’re going to get Kay Whitmore to pick that goalie [moving forward],” he suggested, explaining that there had to be hundreds of former USports and minor league goalies in the greater Toronto area at any given point in time who could have been called upon to serve as an EBUG – especially since that player is the only one available to either team, meaning that the visiting organization was left hoping that the Leafs would collapse offensively in order to pull off their victory.

The good news, of course, is that Ayres now has the story of a lifetime to tell his friends, family, and children – not to mention a record set in the books. But for the NHL, the game itself may have been the catalyst that will bring up a proposal for new EBUG regulations at the next GM meetings.

About The Author

Cat Silverman

Catherine is the first American in a long line of Canadians, making her the black sheep before she even decided she wasn't going to be a Leafs fan. Writer for Today's Slapshot, InGoal Magazine, and Coyotes.NHL.com, coach in the Arizona Coyotes Department of Hockey Development. Goalies are not voodoo.