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Ayres, Canes Reflect on Magical Night One Year Ago

Ayres: 'Some days it feels like yesterday, and some days it feels like it wasn't even real'

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / Hurricanes.com

Feb. 22, 2020. Where were you?

David Ayres, a then 42-year-old buildings operations manager, was plucked from the stands at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto as the designated emergency back-up goaltender. He was suiting up in a white No. 90 Carolina Hurricanes jersey, about to make his debut in the National Hockey League.

"Some days it feels like yesterday, and some days it feels like it wasn't even real," Ayres reflected on an upcoming episode of CanesCast.

Rod Brind'Amour was behind the Canes' bench, watching in disbelief as both of his goaltenders were injured in a game that carried playoff implications.

Jordan Martinook and Brock McGinn were incredulous nearby.

"I think I was kind of giggling," Martinook recalled. "There's video of Roddy's face, and that kind of tells the whole story. I think all of us were excited for him, and everybody was like, 'OK, it's going to be what it's going to be, and hopefully we can hold the fort down.' We weren't expecting much.'"

No one really knew what to expect. Here was a practice goalie and former Zamboni driver about to be thrown into the fray of a game in which the Canes were leading, 4-1.

What happened in the near 29 minutes of game time that followed are now forever preserved in sports lore, as Ayres made eight saves, including seven in the third period, to help the Canes to a 6-3 win.

Video: One year later after Dave Ayres EBUG in Toronto.

"It's something I'll never forget," McGinn said. "It brings back great memories. It's special for David and our team. A lot of guys reflect back on that and think how hard we fought for him."

Ayres had a Hockey Night in Canada towel draped around his neck for a postgame television interview, moments after being named first star of the game to a rousing cheer from the bewildered but also supportive Toronto faithful.

Ayres was then drenched with water when he walked into the Canes' locker room, pandemonium erupting for the team's unlikely hero.

"It's crazy," Brind'Amour reflected. "My memories of that are obviously all good because it turned out well, and I like the fact that we're still talking about it. It's a memory that we'll all cherish, really."

THE LEGEND OF DAVID AYRES | AYRES SPREADS MESSAGE OF HOPE

The lasting memory of what happened that Saturday night in Toronto, a story of the ordinary accomplishing the extraordinary, is a cherished gift that keeps on giving.

"I feel like I get emotional every time I see something about it. Still to this day it's kind of mind-boggling that it happened," Martinook said. "It just makes you happy. It's one of those feel-good hockey moments. When you think of the game of hockey, you think of those feel-good moments. That's at the top for me, for sure."

A year removed from that magical night, the memories are still fresh in all of our minds. One day, those memories will be preserved in film, as Ayres is working with Disney on a movie about his life and, of course, the game itself.

But the highlight of the whirlwind of a year since has been Ayres using his newfound platform to spread a message of hope.

"If my mom never gave me a kidney, I obviously wouldn't be able to do any of this. It was really big for me to give back as much as I could. I've had a lot of people in the last year message me saying thank you for everything I've done in raising awareness for organ donation and kidney donation," he said on an upcoming episode of CanesCast. "If anything, being able to help people out and put smiles on people's faces, for me, that's the best."

You can hear the full conversation with David Ayres on episode 164 of CanesCast, which will be released on Wednesday. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or wherever you listen.

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