It has been the winter of the Big Stink. The winter the stink stunk, from the cesspool in the White House to Manchester City, from the NHL’s Department of Player Jeopardy to the trash-can smashing Houston Astros.
It has been hapless referee Dean Morton dropping F-bombs on Brendan Gallagher when the Canadiens assistant captain dared to complain about beer-league officiating. It’s been Man City getting a two-year ban from the Champions League for spending violations, NBA players with $30 million per year contracts arranging their own trades and above all, commissioner Rob Manfred taking the third major scandal in the long history of Major League Baseball and inflating it into a whirlwind that threatens to take down the commissioner and his sport along with him.
It has been greed and ineptitude across the board in the major sports, to the point where you want to tune out the endless and pointless trade-deadline jibber-jabber and retreat to a cave without wifi.
Into this mess, at the end of February, inject one Zamboni driver, one Cinderella story that ends with Cinderella triumphant and the endlessly overhyped Toronto Maple Leafs skewered with the chirp for the ages: “You lost to the Zamboni driver.”
We owe David Ayres a heartfelt thank you today. Or, because this is coming from Quebec, a hearty merci beaucoup, M. Ayres. For part of one hockey game, he had this nation pulling together, as we rarely do for anything short of the gold-medal game at the Olympics.
Not only was a 42-year-old Zamboni driver pressed into service as the emergency backup goaltender after Carolina goalies James Reimer and Peter Mrazek were both hurt — he was beating the Maple Leafs. While wearing a Leafs mask, yet.
The feat would have drawn plenty of attention no matter which Canadian team Ayres beat — but the fact the Leafs were on the receiving end of this improbable 6-3 beatdown made it sweeter from coast to coast. Every nook and cranny of this vast nation has been pummelled by the Leafs 24/7 barrage for years now, every hockey fan in the country told a thousand times over this aggregation of talent was like none other ever assembled, that Auston Matthews was the greatest scorer since Wayne Gretzky and Morgan Rielly greater than Bobby Orr.
Even now, when most of us know this is a profoundly flawed team, the drumbeat goes on without pause. In the wake of the Ayres victory Saturday night, erstwhile Toronto newspaper columnist Damien Cox pointed out the Leafs were still better than the Habs.
Yeah, dude. But your lot was beaten by the Zamboni driver.
Like the black-and-white photos of Toronto’s last Stanley Cup parade, this one should be good for a half-century or so. Not only is it the ultimate chirp, the victory for David Ayres was a triumph for every overweight beer-league goalie who thinks he could have been Patrick Roy, every forward who skates in slow motion, but sees himself as an undiscovered Connor McDavid.
Ayres is Rudy taking the field for Notre Dame. He’s Rocky rocking Apollo Creed, even as his face dissolves into a bloody mask. He’s all the underdogs trying to get by in an overdog world. For every hockey fan who has wondered what it would be like to stop Auston Matthews — Ayers has been there and done that.
The proudest person in the country Saturday night had to be Sarah Ayres, who had stood by her husband and dreamed the dream with a man whom destiny, it seemed, had already passed by. “I am the happiest, proudest woman on the planet because my human got to live out his ultimate dream,” Sarah Ayres tweeted when it was over. “… I’m also surprised I still have a voice.”
Across the country, hockey fans applauded, but held the cheers, because they were as hoarse as she was. She had also tweeted a pithy, two-word exclamation the instant the game was over, but that one isn’t necessarily meant for tender ears — although it was as Canadian as Zamboni drivers.
The moment seized Canada’s imagination to the point where the frequently breathtaking Alexander Ovechkin was relegated to the back pages with his 700th goal, which put the greatest goal-scorer of our time within striking distance of the once unreachable total of 894. Ovechkin will need at least four seasons to threaten Gretzky and more probably five or six — but you wouldn’t want to bet against him, any more than you would bet against him winning the Maurice Richard Trophy any given year.
The Canadiens and their 3-0 shutout of the Ottawa Senators were also lost in the shuffle, which had the unexpected benefit of quieting the conversation around the infernal trade deadline — another of those artificial dates on the calendar the sports networks milk beyond all reason.
The deadline will come Monday afternoon. It will likely not mean much in terms of Stanley Cups won or lost, but that won’t keep the talking heads from beating it to death from dawn until well into the evening.
For my part, I’m interested only if David Ayres is offered a contract. After all, he must be something special — he beat the mighty Maple Leafs.