Hockey is the next great American pastime

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With a period and a half left in a Feb. 22 game with crucial playoff implications, the Carolina Hurricanes faced one of the worst scenarios possible in hockey: both of their goalies were injured. The Hurricanes’ only option was the emergency goalie. You may have heard of Scott Foster, the 36-year-old accountant who was called in to play netminder for the Chicago Blackhawks. But Foster only had to play 11 minutes, and the Blackhawks were already winning by four. The story in Toronto was very different, as the Hurricanes were only up 3–1, and the game was barely half over. Enter David Ayres.

Ayres is a 42-year-old Zamboni driver for the Maple Leafs’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate. But that night, he was Carolina’s only hope. The Eastern Conference this season is in an extremely tight playoff race, and every possible win counts. The Hurricanes are fighting for one of the last playoff spots, and the Leafs just happen to be one of the teams they’re battling. Seasonal implications hung in the balance, and the last line of defense for Carolina was an ice cleaner who was eating a sandwich 10 minutes prior. Ayres got the call from the press box and suited up, forced to wear pants and a goalie mask provided by Toronto that didn’t even match the Hurricanes’ uniforms. But Ayres skated out among his teammates for the night and gave an all-time performance. The Leafs threw 10 shots at Ayres over the 28 remaining minutes, and he stopped all but two of them. The Hurricanes would win the game 6–3. Ayres’ stick is now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

In what other sport can this be seen? The backup quarterback is rarely played, let alone some guy who had just been eating a cheesesteak in row 27. There won’t be any fans behind the first base dugout who are called on to hit a walk-off with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. And the only action you’re going to get courtside is Mike Scott possibly taking a sip of your cocktail. Watching hockey is a one-of-a-kind experience. You could get a 42-year-old in net, or you could get a game that had six fights in the final two minutes, including one featuring both teams’ goalies. (The video feed of that two minutes of regulation time is 15 minutes long.) If you’re a fan of baseball, strategy is always prevalent, with coaches deciding which players to put on the ice and when to best counteract the other team’s skaters. Or maybe you like basketball, in which case the lightning-fast pace of play in hockey as players fly up and down the ice would enamor you instantly. And while football may be violent, fighting in hockey is encouraged. Hockey is every thrilling aspect of the other three American sports put into one game. You couldn’t ask for more excitement.

So give hockey a try. The Kings might be pretty bad this season, but there’s still some incredible stuff happening around the league. And if the huge hits or incredible saves don’t do it for you, then the trash talk definitely will. Or maybe all it takes is Gritty.