David Ayres has won again.
His victory as the emergency backup goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 22 was voted by fans as the Greatest Moment of the NHL Season … So Far.
The 42-year-old became the first EBUG to win an NHL game when the Hurricanes defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. It was the only NHL game he’s played.
The NHL season paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, and the Greatest Moments competition began March 28, with fans voting on Twitter and Instrgram each day for each individual matchup.
To mark his victory being named Greatest Moment of the NHL Season … So Far, Ayres wrote a special thank you to fans for NHL.com.
By David Ayres
I would like to say thank you.
I’m very grateful and humbled to have my first and only NHL appearance selected as The Greatest Moment of the Season … So Far. Considering I had never played in a game at that level until four months ago, it’s a journey that continues to feel surreal to this day.
To be honest, it feels like so long ago it’s hard to believe I was even in that game.
What makes this honor so special is that it was the fans who bestowed it upon me. It was their votes that determined who would come out ahead in this competition, which included goalie Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators scoring a goal, and Hurricanes forward Andrei Svechnikov, my teammate on that special night in Toronto, becoming the first player to score a lacrosse-style goal in an NHL game.
It’s just another example of how my dream lives on.
I think that’s one of the reasons fans have embraced my story, as the voting results suggest. My dream was their dream, remains their dream, and it came true for me. It serves as a lesson and inspiration for many that you should never give up on something if you want it bad enough.
Whether you were playing road hockey in the neighborhood or shinny at the local arena, we all grew up fantasizing of the day we could step onto the ice in an NHL game. The fact that I lived that experience at age 42, well, I think it gives everyone hope, from house leaguers to beer leaguers.
I think they also can relate to the improbable path I took to get here. I was the recipient of a kidney transplant in 2005. My mom, Mary, was my donor. I never thought I’d play hockey again. Not in Friday night pickup. And certainly not in the NHL.
One of the best parts about my newfound fame is that it has served as a channel to help charities like kidney foundations and other outlets promoting and providing organ donations. It’s given me a platform to support causes that are so near and dear to me, and that’s really special.
As for being in the spotlight, it’s amazing how it has endured. I’m still getting recognized when I go to the store, things like that. People are always kind and flattering, and that’s really cool. Especially because I was a fan like them once. Still am.
My wife, Sarah, and I live with our three teenaged kids, Avery, Brayden and Colton. It took them a while to get accustomed to all the attention. When they went to school the week after the game, there was an announcement about it there. They were like, “What is going on?”
My buddies are my buddies, and that never changes. To them I’m still just the same David Ayres they’ve always known. They treat me the same as they always have. And that means I’m fair game.
For example, when we have our weekly pickup games we just split the teams up into two on the spot, contingent on who and how many show up. After my taste of the NHL, they bought two sets of jerseys for us to wear every week — Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys and Carolina Hurricanes jerseys. They keep urging me to wear a Hurricanes jersey even though they know I can’t. They get a kick out of that. They know I’m still a practice goalie for the Maple Leafs and for the Toronto Marlies, their American Hockey League farm team. And yet they still try.
Even though I’m now known for my stint as a Hurricane, I can’t thank the Maple Leafs organization enough. I would have never received this opportunity without the people there. It’s a relationship that I’ve embraced for the past eight years and continue to, from being the Zamboni driver for the Marlies, to getting a chance to practice with the pros and being the EBUG at home Maple Leafs games.
It’s been a crazy, wild ride, and it’s still going. Being honored by the city of Raleigh and the state of North Carolina. Having my stick donated to the Hockey Hall of Fame, which Wednesday welcomed six new members — Ken Holland, Marian Hossa, Jarome Iginla, Kevin Lowe, Kim St-Pierre and Doug Wilson. Appearing on television talk shows in both Canada and the U.S. that run nationally from coast-to-coast. The list goes on and on.
Indeed I’m still living the dream. And by voting for me, it shows a lot of fans are living it with me and continue to support me.
I’m very appreciative of that. And always will be.
Be safe, everyone.
NHL.com staff writer Mike Zeisberger contributed to this report