TORONTO (Sportsnet) – When you file into Scotiabank Arena on a Saturday night for a hockey game involving two teams battling for their playoff lives, you expect to see goals and collisions and, perhaps, Auston Matthews firing pucks at the opponents’ net.
What you don’t expect to see is the Toronto Marlies’ 42-year-old Zamboni driver stopping one of those Matthews shots, squeezing the pads and holding on to a one-goal lead — and for dear life — as he lives out every rent-a-goalie’s fantasy-slash-nightmare.
Wearing a Carolina Hurricanes sweater (which he’s allowed to keep!) and Kasimir Kaskisuo’s Marlies mask, David Ayres — who resurfaces ice for the Maple Leafs’ farm club and regularly dons the gear to help with target practice in Leafs development and skill sessions — received stick taps from both sides as he was called into emergency duty.
And that’s not the crazy part.
Ayres won 6-3, with some help from the Hurricanes, of course.
Doubling as Carolina’s last resort and what should’ve been Toronto’s punching bag, that poor, lucky Ayres was granted a 3-1 lead when he was summoned into action midway through the second period.
In the second period, Mrazek bolted from his crease to chase a loose puck and collided hard with a forechecking Kyle Clifford outside of the right circle.
After remaining down on the ice for minutes, Mrazek left on his own power but went straight to the dressing room, sparking the unlikeliest of substitutions.
After the switch, Carolina increased its lead to 4-1 when Sebastian Aho took advantage on the power play resulting from Clifford’s collision.
John Tavares scored on the first shot directed Ayres’ way, and Pierre Engvall solved him quickly thereafter.
It felt like only a matter of time for one of the sport’s most dangerous offences to seize the national stage and make Ayres look like the civilian he is.
The @Canes emergency backup goalie (EBUG) tonight is 42-year-old Dave Ayres. Ayres served as EBUG for the Charlotte Checkers on Feb. 1 against the Marlies, and received a kidney transplant in 2004. pic.twitter.com/Bd36Jwv9yi
— Pace Sagester (@PaceSagester) February 23, 2020
But then things got even more bizarre. You know what they say about truth.
Ayres started making saves, a handful of them, including three on Matthews. And Frederik Andersen stopped making them.
It was the team without the Zamboni guy in net who emerged from the second intermission uninspired.
Warren Foegele notched his second of the night, then Martin Necas increased the visitors’ lead to 6-3, giving Ayres enough cushion to entertain the belief that he might actually win a National Hockey League game.
Judging by their boos and their “Let’s! Go! Raptors!” chants, the fans started believing too.
Hockey’s most expensive complement of forwards was unable to defeat an emergency backup.
Carolina, trudging through the tired half of a back-to-back, locked it down, defended Ayres, and defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs — with a Toronto Maple Leafs fan in net.
You cannot make this up.