It’s hard not to get romantic about sports. Yes, it’s not for everyone. My wife would prefer the comfort of staring and scrolling through Instagram and Pintrest than sit through two hours of football, and I know a good many fellas in town and around the bay who would rather be waste deep in snow or up to their elbows in motor-oil than six beers deep through a baseball game, but to each their own, as they say.
To me, magic moments in sports are hard to replicate. Those you remember when and where you were when moments. We all have those. Vince Carter’s dunk, Sidney Crosby’s golden goal, Kawhai Leonard’s buzzer beater. It’s the stuff of stamps and commemorative coins, and it also lays the foundation for lifelong fans of any given sport.
While my interest has wavered from the gridiron to the octagon, the hockey rink has been my first and longest love of sports. Maybe it’s a Newfoundland thing, certainly a Canadian thing, but it just feels to be burnt into the bone for those who call this place home.
I always get excited at certain points in the season, if we’re talking NHL, but here in St. John’s we’ve had much to rally behind. The Newfoundland Growlers pulled some Cinderella magic to win the Kelly Cup last year, hitting a mic drop ‘top this’ moment with a record breaking home-game win streak here in their sophomore campaign.
Prospect Alex Newhook has been absolutely tearing it up on a junior level, and let’s not forget his force of a sister Abby. And young Dawson Mercer, a favourite son of Bay Roberts, is now a World Junior gold medalist.
The unpredictability of the sport is as alluring to me as the cups lifted and first game bucks framed. Take for example the recent NHL trade deadline. Young St. John’s native Nathan Noel found himself traded from the Chicago Blackhawks organization to the Philadelphia Flyers, a move he was likely blindsided by at the 11th hour of deadline day. He’ll report to the Reading Royals for a destined hometown date with the Growlers. Hockey is unpredictable like that.
Which brings me to the modern-day miracle-on-ice moment we experienced on February 22nd. Have you heard of David Ayres? I wouldn’t be shocked to see him grace a video game cover or a commemorative jersey or two, so maybe you’ve heard the story. Ayres, a Zamboni driver for the Toronto Marlies, was the saviour of a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes, coming in the extremely rare role of emergency backup goaltender when both ‘Canes’ net-minders came up lame with injury.
It’s one-in-a-million type odds that is rarely seen at the NHL level. But here was Ayres, manning the net in a pivotal conference match, facing a hungry and youthful Leafs squad with tons to prove before millions of television viewers and a packed barn on Hockey Night in Canada. And he won, cementing his name in the history books. Imagine that!
Thirty years to the day that the Americans toppled the impossibly talented Soviets at the Miracle on Ice Lake Placid Olympic Games, David Ayres made sports magic. We’ll all remember where we were when we saw a zamboni driver take down the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It says something about sports, about moments and memories, and embracing the chances that seem impossible at first glance. Because golden goals and miracles at Lake Placid live forever, but no one remember the shots we didn’t take.
Dillon Collins, The Herald’s Staff Writer, can be reached by emailing email@example.com