David Ayres: From a kidney transplant to making his NHL debut aged 42

By James CohenBBC Sport
David Ayres on knees.
Ayres made eight saves from 10 shots against the Maple Leafs on his debut

When David Ayres had a kidney transplant in 2004 any hopes of playing in the NHL ended with it - or so he thought.

But last month the 42-year-old created headlines when he made his NHL debut, coming on as an emergency goaltender for Carolina Hurricanes as they won 6-3 at Toronto Maple Leafs.

"I was just sitting in the stands waiting and when the first goalie got hurt and I went down and got dressed," he told BBC's World Service Sportshour.

"I was half dressed and the second goalie got hurt and they came in and told me 'get the rest of your stuff on! You got to go out on the ice!'.

"I'd be onto that ice many times, but it's a little different when you put 20,000 people in front of you and the lights are all on and you walk out onto the ice and everyone's screaming and cheering."

Ayres, whose day job is as building operations manager at the Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto, has been a practice goaltender with the Leafs for the last eight years.

He also serves as the emergency goaltender for games in Toronto - meaning he is available to either side if both their regular goaltenders are injured.

And that happened on 23 February when he was called to action after both of the Hurricanes goalkeepers were injured.

Ayres - who used to drive Zambonis, the machines that clean the ice - came on and helped the Hurricanes to a 6-3 victory.

He entered the game in the second period with the score at 3-1, let in his first two shots, but stopped the next eight.

"The game was a lot faster than I thought it was going to be," he said. "Those first two shots were tough ones, and after the two goals went in you kinda say to yourself 'Step up here, have a little bit more fun and little bit more pride. Don't let yourself get embarrassed out here'."

He was cheered into the Hurricanes dressing room after the game and the team started selling jerseys with his name and number on the back with proceeds donated to a kidney foundation.

Ayres' goalie stick was donated to The Hockey Hall of Fame.

The Canadian had previously played in the American Hockey League - the development league for the NHL - but 16 years ago he underwent a transplant, with his mother Mary as his donor.

"If it wasn't for me being able to have my transplant I wouldn't have been able to do this," added Ayres, who has also survived two bouts of skin cancer.external-link

"If I can give anything back to anyone else and help them achieve their goals and realise that even after a transplant like that you can really battle back and do what you want to do with your life."

Ayres is the oldest netminder to win an NHL game on debut and has not ruled out another appearance.,

"The odds of that happening are slim," he said. "The rest of the year I'm doing lots of emergency games in Toronto so you never know, could happen."

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