MAN OF THE MOMENT: Dave Ayres signs autographs at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., at a Carolina Hurricanes game Tuesday. (Getty Images)

Spectra arena ops manager Ayres is a ‘rink rat’ turned hero goalie

Dave Ayres’ position as manager of operations at Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto took a back seat to his side job last weekend.

Filling the role of NHL emergency goalie on Saturday night, Ayres skated into the spotlight at Scotiabank Arena. Working the net for the visiting Carolina Hurricanes after their two goalies were hurt, Ayres stopped seven shots in the third period as the Canes beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3.

The news of Ayres’ heroics lit up the sporting world and some of the nonsporting world, too. He made multiple national television appearances with stories posted on many websites. Along the way, though, some misinformation around his experience working at hockey facilities got into the storyline.

Yes, Ayres was a Zamboni driver for about two years while working for the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies, the top minor league affiliate of the Maple Leafs, but that was more than five years ago. Since then, he joined Spectra, the firm running Mattamy Athletic Centre since it re-opened in 2012 after a major renovation.

The multi-venue complex is the former Maple Leaf Gardens, which was home to the Maple Leafs from 1931 to 1999 before undergoing a retrofit a decade ago to accommodate Ryerson University athletics.

In his full-time job, Ayres, 42, supervises a staff of 10 people and oversees a budget of 1 million Canadian dollars, said Dan Berger, Spectra’s district manager for seven Ontario properties, including Mattamy Athletic Centre. The building has separate venues for hockey and basketball, seating 3,000 and 1,000, respectively. There’s also a fitness center with a swimming pool, running track, squash courts, weight room, gyms and dance studios. 

Loblaws, a supermarket chain in Canada, occupies the first level with an 85,000-square-foot grocery. Initially, Loblaws bought the old arena from Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment before selling half of the venue to Ryerson to provide a new home for six men’s and women’s teams playing college hockey, basketball and volleyball.

Ayres is manager of operations at Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto. (Courtesy Spectra)

All told, Mattamy Athletic Centre books about 150 event days a year. Showcase events have been Pan Am Games basketball and Parapan American Games wheelchair basketball in 2015, various Invictus Games events in 2017 and the Grand Slam of Curling. Most recently, the venue played host to the Guts & Glory Crossfit Games. For Ayres, it keeps him busy along with his gig moonlighting as an emergency goaltender. He practices sporadically with the Leafs early in the morning, sometimes five to six days a week, to keep his goaltending skills sharp before heading to his regular job.

“My boss (Berger) is really good with it,” Ayres said. “He makes sure that I get my work done and everything he needs from me, to make sure I get to do this kind of stuff. My job isn’t necessarily Monday through Friday. It’s nights, weekends, all over the map.”

Ayres has some experience running NHL venues. In 2013, 600 arena workers at the Leafs’ arena went on strike and Ayres worked a few hockey games at the 19,800-seat building, which was then called Air Canada Centre.

On Tuesday, Ayres traveled to PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., home of the Hurricanes, where he was honored by the team, the city and state on “David Ayres Day.” He cranked the siren signifying the start of the first period and was interviewed on Fox Sports Carolinas during intermission. 

“The biggest surprise all of us had was how well he does in front of the camera,” Berger said.

In his first visit to North Carolina, Ayres made sure to connect with his colleagues in facility operations.

“The first thing I did when I got there was talk to the ice crew about maintenance,” he said. “All the hockey stuff aside, I’m still interested in how others (prepare) their rinks and conversions. We were talking shop there for a while, and it was really cool to see how they do things there.”

Ayres first started working at hockey rinks as a teenager before driving the Zamboni as a supervisor on night shifts. As an operator, he ran rinks for the city of Oshawa, Ontario, for about seven years.

“I was a rink rat, pushing nets around and sweeping floors,” Ayres said. 

Ayres has played goalie since age 6. He continues to serve as the Leafs’ emergency goalie this season.

“I get back to my regular job (Thursday) and will get back up to speed,” he said. “I’m not even sure what the schedule is right now. I may have to work Saturday morning and then go to the (Leafs) game that night. We’ll see how it goes.”