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David Ayres reflects on historic Hurricanes cameo

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Sarah and David Ayres are photographed in their Bowmanville, Ont. home on Dec. 17 2020.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

David and Sarah Ayres go to the gym on weeknights. They almost never go on a Saturday, lest he gets pressed into service as an emergency backup goalie in an NHL game.

They went to a fitness centre despite that last Feb. 22, and David overdid it big time. As he exercised, he added more and more weight to the leg-press machine, until he lifted 900 pounds. “I’ve never seen Dave leg press as much weight for as long as he did,” Sarah says.

For two years, he had served as an emergency netminder at all Maple Leafs games at Scotiabank Arena. The league requires home teams to have one ready in case the starter and backup for both themselves and the visitors get injured.

To that point, it had happened only once in NHL history – and never to David Ayres.

“I did as many reps at the gym as I could,” says Ayres, who is six feet and 200 pounds. “I didn’t want to waste a perfectly good workout. I thought there was no way I would ever get to play.”

Shortly after that, the couple drove to Toronto from their home in Bowmanville, about an hour to the east, fully expecting to be spectators as they had so many times.

When they got to the rink, they left David’s gear in the car – it’s not as though he would need his pads and blocker anyway – and bought Reuben sandwiches and fries at a concession stand. Then they ascended a long series of stairs until they reached Section 317, where they stand and watch games from the rail.

“On the way up, Dave complained that his legs were killing him,” Sarah says. “He said, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if I had to play tonight?’”

They never imagined it would happen. They never imagined that David, a 42-year-old former Zamboni driver with a transplanted kidney, was going to play the lead in the feel-good hockey story of the year. They never imagined it would captivate so many people that it would prompt Disney to make a film.

Early in the first period, James Reimer, the starting netminder for the Carolina Hurricanes, suffered a knee injury and was replaced by Petr Mrazek.

That left nobody else if Carolina’s backup got hurt, so David fetched his equipment from the parking garage and began to get dressed in a lounge beneath the stands.

Sarah started to text family and friends to let them know to tune in to the Hockey Night In Canada telecast in the highly unlikely event that David entered the game. It was the third time he had put gear on, but circumstances had never been so dire that he was needed.

Sarah was in Section 317, peering down at her phone, when she heard the crowd roar with 8 minutes 41 seconds left in the second period. Looking up, she saw Mrazek sprawled motionless on the ice. He had incurred a concussion in a collision with Toronto’s Kyle Clifford.

Stunned, she texted a message – “WTF” to David, who was unaware of what had just transpired.

“The second goalie is down!” she told him.

At the time, the Hurricanes were applying a name bar to the back of a jersey for David. The game was delayed for 10 minutes until he was prepared to play.

“I was sick to my stomach the whole time,” Sarah says. “I thought, ‘If he messes the bed, it is not good for any of us.’”

When Ayres skated out, he was so flustered he headed for the wrong goal. Players shouted, “No, no, no! The other end.”

“After all these years of practice, I was very excited,” David says.

He had been a practice goalie for the Toronto Marlies of the AHL for eight years and for the Maple Leafs for two.

“I could feel that all eyes were on me,” he says. “I was thrilled to be in the net, but it was one of those moments I would have liked to be watching myself.”

Carolina was ahead 3-1 when he came in, but there was half a game to play. Carolina scored again to make it 4-1, then Toronto scored on its first two shots

“I threw all of my expectations out,” Sarah says. “I told myself to just enjoy it, that it was something that would never happen again.”

Ayres made one save before the teams headed to their dressing rooms to rest between the second and third periods. During the intermission, Reimer took a seat beside Ayres and told him to relax, that he was doing fine.

Before they went back out onto the ice, Ayres told his teammates if they scored one more goal, he would shut the door on the Maple Leafs.

“They looked at me like I had three eyes,” he says.

In the final 20 minutes, he made seven saves and the Hurricanes won, 6-3. He became the first emergency backup goalie in NHL history to be credited with a victory (on March 20, 2018, 36-year-old accountant Scott Fisher entered a game for the Chicago Blackhawks, but did not play long enough to officially get the win) and was selected as the game’s first star.

“I was halfway down the hall when one of the game operations officials stopped me and told me to wait,” Ayres says.

Then he was summoned out for a celebratory skate onto the ice.

“I have seen many games in that arena, and when the Leafs lose, the place usually empties out pretty quickly so I thought nobody was going to be out there,” he says. “When I stepped onto the ice, I looked up and the arena was three-quarters full and everyone was on their feet.”

David did a national television interview after the game, and then Sarah was asked to join him for another. With apologies to the Stanley Cup champion Lightning, theirs was arguably the biggest story of the season in the NHL.

Ayres, whose usual recompense for being the emergency goalie is free admission, was paid $500 by the Hurricanes.

The following day, Ayres flew to New York and was shuttled around in a limousine as he made multiple television appearances and met NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. On Tuesday, he and Sarah flew to Raleigh, N.C., and were honoured before a Hurricanes game. David signed autographs for fans lined up on the concourse, where one guy asked him to sign his forearm so he could use it as an outline for a tattoo. The Hockey Hall of Fame added his goalie stick to its collection and James Corden, the late-night television talk-show host, hooked him up with officials at Disney, which is beginning to make a feature film.

“This is the craziest thing that has ever happened to us,” Sarah says. “There is nothing even to compare to it. I can’t believe it has been 10 months.”

COVID-19 suspended the NHL season and life has mostly returned to normal for the Ayres’s.

“The brakes went on,” Sarah says. “Things went from crazy to a sudden halt.”

Although COVID-19 has slowed things down, David continues to get requests for personal appearances, and fans send items to his home for him to sign. “It’s a little out of our comfort zone,” Sarah says. “It’s not like we don’t feel worthy, but it is a lot to take in.”

They are a normal suburban couple that fortune shined upon and are trying to make the most of it. They have been married for three years and David has since adopted Sarah’s three children, ages 10 to 16.

He has given up his job as a facility-operations manager and occasional Zamboni driver at the Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto (at the former Maple Leaf Gardens), and now works for a company that makes ice for hockey rinks. Ayres, who played minor hockey as a youth, plans to return as emergency backup goalie this season – if the Leafs play at Scotiabank – and says he feels more confident now if he gets to play again.

He spends most of his leisure time on charity work, and was recently honoured for helping to raise nearly $100,000 during the pandemic for the Kidney Foundation of Canada. He had his transplant in 2004, with his mother as the donor.

“It has given me a platform to do good things,” he says.

Before COVID and everyone having to wear a mask, people recognized him. And Sarah, everywhere they went. Now, until at least the next NHL season, they will return to anonymity.

 

 

Source: – The Globe and Mail

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Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs dominate Buffalo Bills to earn 2nd straight trip to Super Bowl – TSN

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It took the Kansas City Chiefs five frustrating decades to make their third Super Bowl appearance.

Now, the defending champs are headed there for the second straight year.

Showing no lingering effects from his concussion, Patrick Mahomes sliced up Buffalo’s secondary with ruthless efficiency Sunday night, helping the Chiefs roll to a 38-24 victory over Josh Allen and the Bills in the AFC championship game.

The reigning Super Bowl MVP finished with 325 yards passing and three touchdowns, most of it to favourite targets Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, who complemented their star quarterback with a record-setting night of their own.

The Chiefs will face a familiar foe — Tom Brady — and the NFC champ Buccaneers in two weeks in Tampa, Florida.

“It was just trusting each other. The best thing about this team is we believe in each other,” said Mahomes, who was also dealing with a toe injury. “But the job’s not finished. We’re going to Tampa; we’re trying to run it back.”

Kelce finished with 13 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns, and Hill added nine catches for 172 yards, becoming the first duo in NFL history with consecutive games of at least 100 yards receiving each in a single post-season.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams added short TD runs for the Chiefs, who will try to become the eighth franchise and first team since the Brady-led New England Patriots in 2003 and ’04 to defend the Lombardi Trophy.

“So glad to get to do it again,” said Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, whose father Lamar founded the franchise. “Thought a lot about my dad tonight, thought about my family and how excited my father would have been that we got to do it again in Arrowhead Stadium. That’s what he would have liked the most about it.”

Allen, who had his worst game of the season in a Week 6 loss to the Chiefs, again struggled against the blitzing Kansas City defence. He finished with 287 yards passing with two touchdowns and an interception, but a big chunk of his numbers came as the Bills tried to rally from a 38-15 deficit in the final minutes.

Their frustration boiled over with 3:19 to go, when Allen was getting sacked by Tanoh Kpassagnon. Alex Okafor finished off the tackle, and Allen pitched the ball in his face in resentment. Offensive linemen Jon Feliciano and Dion Dawkins rushed in and levelled Okafor, resulting in a flood of offsetting personal foul penalties.

“Obviously a lot of emotion,” Allen said. “Any time you don’t finish the season with a win, that’s the type of emotion you’re going to have. The way it ended doesn’t sit right with me with how chippy and ticky-tack it got. I’m disappointed in myself. I let my emotions get to me there. That’s not how you’re supposed to play football.”

It capped a bitter night for the Bills, who had reached their first AFC title game since beating Kansas City at home on Jan. 1, 1994. They had won 11 of 12 since their loss to the Chiefs earlier this season — in fact, they hadn’t trailed in the second half since Week 8 — and were riding a wave of confidence that this might finally be their championship year.

Instead, after finally conquering the Patriots in the AFC East, the Bills have a new roadblock to the Super Bowl.

“It stings to get this far,” said Bills coach Sean McDermott, who once worked under Chiefs counterpart Andy Reid in Philadelphia. “Sometimes the further you go, the harder it is to lose. It’s a learning experience for us as an organization.”

The Chiefs actually spotted the Bills a 9-0 lead, thanks in large part to Mecole Hardman’s muffed punt inside their 5 that gifted Buffalo a touchdown. But the reigning champs were hardly rattled; the Chiefs, after all, rallied from double-digits in each of their post-season wins last season, including their Super Bowl triumph over San Francisco.

Mahomes and Kelce soon found their groove. And the rest of the Chiefs offence followed suit.

They surgically took apart Buffalo’s defence on a 14-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a short TD throw to Hardman — no hard feelings over that fumble. Then, the Chiefs cruised 82 yards in just five plays, the big one Hardman’s 50-yard end-around that set up Williams’ touchdown tumble. Finally, they made it three TDs in three possessions when Edwards-Helaire — in his first game back from an ankle injury — capped a 77-yard drive with a short plunge.

The only answer from Buffalo was Tyler Bass’s chip-shot field goal that made it 21-12 at the break.

You don’t beat Kansas City by kicking field goals from the 3-yard line, though. Or from the 9, where the Bills settled for another one to close within 24-15 late in the third quarter.

That became painfully clear on the ensuing drive. Mahomes hit Hill in stride and the All-Pro wide receiver promptly made the Bills secondary look downright foolish. Weaving in and out of woebegone defenders, Hill was finally caught inside the 5-yard line after a 71-yard gain, ultimately setting up Kelce’s short TD catch a few plays later.

“You watch him on film, you see what he’s doing. It’s like he’s running at a different speed compared to everybody else,” Bills safety Micah Hyde said. “And tonight, we saw first-hand for the second time. He’s fast.”

Any hopes the Bills had of a comeback were dashed when Rashad Fenton picked off a tipped pass deep in Kansas City territory. The Chiefs breezily marched the other direction, and Mahomes and Kelce kicked off the celebration of another trip to the Super Bowl when they connected for their second score of the game.

“I’m proud of these guys,” said Reid, who moved into a tie with Joe Gibbs for fourth on the career list with his 17th playoff win. “They did a phenomenal job, and hats off to the Buffalo Bills and the great job they did all year, and most of all, listen, we have the Lamar Hunt Trophy back in Kansas City.

“Now we have to get the big one.”

INJURIES

Chiefs: RG Andrew Wylie hurt his knee early in the second half and LT Eric Fisher limped off in the fourth quarter with an injury to his Achilles’ tendon. … CB L’Jarius Sneed and SS Armani Watts were evaluated for concussions.

UP NEXT

The Chiefs and Buccaneers have only played 13 times, and Kansas City had lost five straight before a 27-24 win in Tampa on Nov. 29 — a game that wasn’t as close as the final score. Brady is 5-5 in his career against the Chiefs, including an overtime victory with the Patriots in the AFC title game at Arrowhead Stadium two years ago.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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Chiefs defeat Bills to set up meeting with Buccaneers in Super Bowl – Sportsnet.ca

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It took the Kansas City Chiefs five frustrating decades to make their second Super Bowl appearance.

Now, the defending champs are headed there for the second straight year.

Showing no lingering effects from his concussion, Patrick Mahomes sliced up Buffalo’s secondary with ruthless efficiency Sunday night, helping the Chiefs roll to a 38-24 victory over Josh Allen and the Bills in the AFC championship game.

The reigning Super Bowl MVP finished with 325 yards passing and three touchdowns, most of it to favourite targets Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, who complemented their star quarterback with a record-setting night of their own.

The Chiefs will face a familiar foe — Tom Brady — and the NFC champ Buccaneers in two weeks in Tampa, Florida.

“It was just trusting each other. The best thing about this team is we believe in each other,” said Mahomes, who was also dealing with a toe injury. “But the job’s not finished. We’re going to Tampa; we’re trying to run it back.”

Kelce finished with 13 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns, and Hill added nine catches for 172 yards, becoming the first duo in NFL history with consecutive games of at least 100 yards receiving each in a single post-season.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams added short TD runs for the Chiefs, who will try to become the eighth franchise and first team since the Brady-led New England Patriots in 2003 and ’04 to defend the Lombardi Trophy.

“So glad to get to do it again,” said Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, whose father Lamar founded the franchise. “Thought a lot about my dad tonight, thought about my family and how excited my father would have been that we got to do it again in Arrowhead Stadium. That’s what he would have liked the most about it.”

Allen, who had his worst game of the season in a Week 6 loss to the Chiefs, again struggled against the blitzing Kansas City defence. He finished with 287 yards passing with two touchdowns and an interception, but a big chunk of his numbers came as the Bills tried to rally from a 38-15 deficit in the final minutes.

Their frustration boiled over with 3:19 to go, when Allen was getting sacked by Tanoh Kpassagnon. Alex Okafor finished off the tackle, and Allen pitched the ball in his face in resentment. Offensive linemen Jon Feliciano and Dion Dawkins rushed in and levelled Okafor, resulting in a flood of offsetting personal foul penalties.

“Obviously a lot of emotion,” Allen said. “Any time you don’t finish the season with a win, that’s the type of emotion you’re going to have. The way it ended doesn’t sit right with me with how chippy and ticky-tack it got. I’m disappointed in myself. I let my emotions get to me there. That’s not how you’re supposed to play football.”

It capped a bitter night for the Bills, who had reached their first AFC title game since beating Kansas City at home on Jan. 1, 1994. They had won 11 of 12 since their loss to the Chiefs earlier this season — in fact, they hadn’t trailed in the second half since Week 8 — and were riding a wave of confidence that this might finally be their championship year.

Instead, after finally conquering the Patriots in the AFC East, the Bills have a new roadblock to the Super Bowl.

“It stings to get this far,” said Bills coach Sean McDermott, who once worked under Chiefs counterpart Andy Reid in Philadelphia. “Sometimes the further you go, the harder it is to lose. It’s a learning experience for us as an organization.”

The Chiefs actually spotted the Bills a 9-0 lead, thanks in large part to Mecole Hardman’s muffed punt inside their 5 that gifted Buffalo a touchdown. But the reigning champs were hardly rattled; the Chiefs, after all, rallied from double-digits in each of their post-season wins last season, including their Super Bowl triumph over San Francisco.

Mahomes and Kelce soon found their groove. And the rest of the Chiefs offence followed suit.

They surgically took apart Buffalo’s defence on a 14-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a short TD throw to Hardman — no hard feelings over that fumble. Then, the Chiefs cruised 82 yards in just five plays, the big one Hardman’s 50-yard end-around that set up Williams’ touchdown tumble. Finally, they made it three TDs in three possessions when Edwards-Helaire — in his first game back from an ankle injury — capped a 77-yard drive with a short plunge.

The only answer from Buffalo was Tyler Bass’s chip-shot field goal that made it 21-12 at the break.

You don’t beat Kansas City by kicking field goals from the 3-yard line, though. Or from the 9, where the Bills settled for another one to close within 24-15 late in the third quarter.

That became painfully clear on the ensuing drive. Mahomes hit Hill in stride and the All-Pro wide receiver promptly made the Bills secondary look downright foolish. Weaving in and out of woebegone defenders, Hill was finally caught inside the 5-yard line after a 71-yard gain, ultimately setting up Kelce’s short TD catch a few plays later.

“You watch him on film, you see what he’s doing. It’s like he’s running at a different speed compared to everybody else,” Bills safety Micah Hyde said. “And tonight, we saw first-hand for the second time. He’s fast.”

Any hopes the Bills had of a comeback were dashed when Rashad Fenton picked off a tipped pass deep in Kansas City territory. The Chiefs breezily marched the other direction, and Mahomes and Kelce kicked off the celebration of another trip to the Super Bowl when they connected for their second score of the game.

“I’m proud of these guys,” said Reid, who moved into a tie with Joe Gibbs for fourth on the career list with his 17th playoff win. “They did a phenomenal job, and hats off to the Buffalo Bills and the great job they did all year, and most of all, listen, we have the Lamar Hunt Trophy back in Kansas City.

“Now we have to get the big one.”

INJURIES

Chiefs: RG Andrew Wylie hurt his knee early in the second half and LT Eric Fisher limped off in the fourth quarter with an injury to his Achilles’ tendon. … CB L’Jarius Sneed and SS Armani Watts were evaluated for concussions.

UP NEXT

The Chiefs and Buccaneers have only played 13 times, and Kansas City had lost five straight before a 27-24 win in Tampa on Nov. 29 — a game that wasn’t as close as the final score. Brady is 5-5 in his career against the Chiefs, including an overtime victory with the Patriots in the AFC title game at Arrowhead Stadium two years ago.

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Maple Leafs attempting to out-sprint competition with condensed schedule – Sportsnet.ca

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Heavy hearts inside the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. Heavy legs in all four corners of the dressing room.

It was a sombre Sunday with news of George Armstrong’s death and a quirky 2 p.m. game to be played under conditions that screamed “schedule loss.” The Leafs landed in Calgary some 20 hours before puck drop and hadn’t had a chance to come up for air since training camp began three weeks ago. The Flames hadn’t played in six days.

“It was our seventh game in 12 days and travelling out here and then having to play a 2 o’clock game, it’s a tough ask. And then you’re playing against a rested team,” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. “This one we felt would not be pretty.”

The only beauty to be found in a 3-2 victory was the two points it added to their total in the North Division standings and the strong play of backup goalie Jack Campbell, who continues to build a case for giving Frederik Andersen more nights of rest.

But what was even more telling than the game itself was the way Keefe, in particular, approached the circumstances of the day.

He broke from tradition in the typical pre-game meeting to honour Armstrong rather than focusing on finer points of the Flames attack or details of defensive emphasis. Keefe is 40 and never came close to seeing the man known as “Chief” play. Many of his players are a generation younger than that and may not have even realized that Armstrong spent 75 years with the organization, captaining the Leafs during their last Stanley Cup win in 1967 but also serving as a coach, assistant general manager, scout and community ambassador.

The message that came with a video about Armstrong’s life is telling about the mindset of the club in the here and now.

“What we talked about is just how efforts like [those from Armstrong] back in the 60’s in particular — the last time the Leafs won the Cup — that’s the reason why Leaf Nation is as strong as it is,” said Keefe. “That’s why generations of families grow up as Leaf fans, because of those efforts, and we have a role to play to continue to build upon that.”

There was nothing scripted about the way Auston Matthews paid tribute to Armstrong in his post-game availability with reporters. He actually interrupted a member of the team’s public relations staff running the Zoom call to make sure he could get in a few words before the questions started.

“First off, I just want to extend my condolences to the Armstrong family,” said Matthews. “Obviously George was an incredible ambassador for the city of Toronto and the Maple Leafs. He paved the way for guys like us that are obviously trying to accomplish something big here.”

This is not a group hiding from its aspirations.

When it was revealed recently that their season is being documented by behind-the-scenes cameras for an upcoming series on Amazon Prime, a couple players mentioned that they welcomed it because of where they expect to go.

Keefe is pushing hard, too.

The Leafs expect to have a great regular season and are putting the pedal down during this 5-2-0 start. Under different circumstances, Matthews may have been given another precautionary game off after sitting out Friday’s win over Edmonton because of a hand injury and not having skated with any purpose since Wednesday.

Instead he logged 21:42 against the Flames despite both he and the coach acknowledging that he was missing some explosiveness in his stride.

“I think that first period I just tried to get my legs going and then I kind of felt a little bit better towards the second half of the game,” said Matthews.

A trend is developing here. No NHL forward is averaging more minutes than Mitch Marner (24:03) so far and beyond that only Anze Kopitar (23:52) and Mark Scheifele (23:32) are getting more playing time than Matthews (23:07).

With a Cup on their minds and a compacted 56-game schedule inside their agendas, the Leafs are attempting to sprint ahead of the competition.

They needed some good bounces to beat Calgary on Sunday, seeing all three pucks that got behind Jacob Markstrom go in off a piece of equipment other than a stick. Campbell took care of the rest with 31 saves.

“Soup was an absolute rockstar for us,” said Matthews.

The Leafs have now beaten every team in the division except Vancouver and won’t see the struggling Canucks for the first time until Feb. 4. Given the binary nature of results in a season featuring only intra-division play, that’s a fantastic start.

There are process-related objectives they’ll need to improve upon, including finding ways to more consistently generate quality chances from their time in the offensive zone and ideally creating a mix on the fourth line that can be trusted to play.

But you won’t find them chopping apart their victories right now, particularly with the challenging pace of the schedule.

Results are what matter when your goal is to hang another banner beside the one Armstrong and Co. put up 54 years ago. The standard needs to be set high. That’s why Keefe made sure not to allow Armstrong’s death to pass without special mention on Sunday afternoon.

“When you’re in this every single day, you’re in the moment, you’re taking care of what you can control,” he said. “I do think it’s important to stop and pause every now and again just to look at the bigger picture and recognize that what we’re doing here every day is for a greater purpose beyond ourselves.

“And we have a role to play within how we prepare and how we play and people like George showed the way.”

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