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Become A Legend: Carolina Hurricanes Emergency Goalie David Ayres Teaches The Three Keys To ‘Seizing Your Moment’

Stay In The Game: Patrick Mahomes Delivers A Super Bowl Victory Because He Didn’t Give In

Imagine being in a crowd at a professional hockey game drinking a soft drink, sharing a sandwich with your wife when your cell phone goes off. It is a working opportunity to live your dream. Minutes later, you are in bowels of the arena, strapping on pads and skates and headed onto the ice.

Within an hour, you’d become the stuff of legends. An NHL team would have a t-shirt on sale in their team store with your name and number on it. Your cell phone would burn up with media requests. Airline tickets would be ordered so you could be celebrated with a standing ovation as Ayres was last night.

You’ve just lived last Saturday night with David Ayres, a Canadian Zamboni driver who now gets to claim that he is 1-0 as a goalie at the highest level of professional hockey.

Ayres, 42, was pressed into action this weekend for the Hurricanes after their two primary goalies were knocked out of a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. As I mentioned, his regular job is driving the Zamboni for the Toronto Marlies, the minor league affiliate of the Maple Leafs, but he’s been the minor-league team’s practice goalie all season and has even sat in with the Leafs for some of their skill sessions.

Before the game, he was designated the “Emergency Backup Goaltender” for the contest, which meant he was available to either team should they need him. Carolina did. (Just fyi, in all my years covering sports, I didn’t know this job existed)

It’s the kind of story that only Hollywood could dream up if they were still trying to think of original stories. Ayres entered the game in the second period with Carolina up 3-1, and immediately gave up the first two shots he faced on goal.

Carolina 3, Toronto 3.

Ayres told CBS Sports after the game, “Obviously, that second period was a little shaky, but I told the boys in the dressing room, ‘Once we come out for the third, I’ll be settled down and ready to win this one.”

It wasn’t bravado—Ayres stopped the next eight Toronto shots that came his way.

It wasn’t luck, either—Ayres was a minor league goalie with a .777 save percentage prior to his kidney transplant in 2004.

When the final horn sounded, the score was Carolina 6, Toronto 3…and David Ayres 1-0!

Despite his work in shutting down the hometown team, Ayres was lauded by fans during and after the game. Maple Leafs players skated over after the second period and gave Ayres stick taps, a sign of respect. The Hurricanes players did them one better—after the game when Ayres walked into the Carolina locker room carrying his helmet covered with Toronto Marlies stickers, the Hurricane players showered him with champagne.

“I didn’t know I was going to get a shower before I got a shower,” Ayres told reporters. “But I got one.”

There’s so much to love about this story, not the least of which is the Hurricanes paying Ayres $500 for his heroics, then putting his jersey on sale in the team store and giving him royalties as well as donating the rest of the proceeds from sales to a kidney foundation of his choice.

But what I love are these three things, the keys to Ayres’ success:

1. Ayres was ready to step into the moment. He didn’t hesitate when his number was called—he stepped from the Zamboni driver’s seat into the hot seat without a moment’s pause. There’s a huge lesson in Greatness there because the Great Ones know that being the ultimate teammate means being ready to whatever is needed at the drop of a hat.

2. Ayres was prepared for the moment. Though his kidney transplant ended his professional career, Ayres never gave up on keeping his skills sharp. By working in and around the game he loved, he was able to keep working on his craft, even if only for his personal satisfaction. Did he know his number would be called during a professional NHL game? No. But he was ready when it happened, and now, he’s a legend.

3. Ayres was bigger than the moment. He stopped 8 out of 10 shots on goal. In an NHL game. For the opposing team of his hometown club. If it wouldn’t be such a horrible pun, I’d tell the man played like he had as much ice in his veins as he had under his feet.

It’s easy to say sport is a microcosm of life, and this story is the perfect example of the very idea. A man with a dream kept his dream alive and when he was literally called from the stands to live out that dream, he not only was prepared, he was able to demonstrate Greatness.

What about you?

Would you be ready if your dream came calling tomorrow? Would you be prepared to perform? Would you be bigger than the moment?

It’s worth asking yourself because if Dave Ayres can go from Zamboni seat to the zenith of his hockey life in one evening, there’s no telling what might come your way. If you’re not ready, that moment will pass you by—perhaps to never come again.

But if you’re like Dave Ayres, you can step into that moment and become something you never imagined:

A legend.

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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