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TBT: The Original David Ayres

With the anniversary of David Ayres’s incredibly, Disney movie quality story earlier this week – I wanted to focus on a similar story for this week’s Throwback Thursdays.

A 42 year old Zamboni driver beating the team that employs him in a real-life NHL game is a hard story to top. But I’m not here to rehash that story for the thousandth time, regardless of how heartwarming it is (unless you’re a Leafs fan).

What’s next, an overweight, 30 year old beer leaguer that never made it higher than high school hockey? I’m available is all I’m saying.

Much is made of Ayres age and the fact that he was an amateur at the position. Yet he was a life-long goalie who had practiced with the Leafs multiple times so he had at least some experience with NHL shooters. Now, what if I told you there was an even older person, who was an active NHL coach and GM? What if it was someone who had never played in goal filling in as an emergency goalie in the Stanley Cup Finals?

Interested?

Our hero in this story, Lester Patrick, had a long history in hockey that can be found in the Hockey Hall of Fame and various other internet biographies that are certainly worth a read. However, for this article I’ll just give you a brief rundown of Patrick and his influence in the hockey world. Some of the highlights of Patrick’s life in hockey include:

-Winning the Stanley Cup as a defenseman in back-to-back years with the Montreal Wanderers in 1905-06 and 1906-07. He scored 41 goals in 28 games during those two seasons and remember, he was a defenseman.
-Played with his brother Frank the Renfrew Millionaires during the inaugural season of the National Hockey Association in 1910-11. The NHA was the precursor of the NHL and you can read about its demise and the birth of the NHL here.
-Formed the Pacific Coast Hockey Association in 1911-12, a league that lured away top NHA/NHL stars like Cyclone Taylor and Newsy Lalonde. According to the Hockey Hall of Fame “many considered it to be the most exhilarating pro league ever.”
-The Patrick brother financed the construction of Denman Arena and Patrick Arena, the first artificial ice arenas in Canada.
-Patrick managed the 1924-25 Victoria Cougars, who defeated the Montreal Canadiens for the Stanley Cup, the last British Columbia team to win hockey’s ultimate prize – Sorry Canucks fans!

Hopefully Vancouver fans don’t get too emotional over that joke. Photo: Reuters

-After retiring as a player he sign on as coach and general manager with the New York Rangers in 1926. Patrick would win three Stanley Cups with the Rangers.
-Patrick would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1947.
-Starting in 1966, the NHL has annually presented the Lester Patrick Award to honour a recipient’s contribution to hockey in the United States.

Patrick (middle) with sons Lynn and Muzz Patrick (left) and another pair of brothers, Neil and Mac Colville (right). Photo: Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection

Now that we’ve gone over Patrick’s awesome history in the game we love, let’s talk about the emergency back-up situation this is all about.

It was April of 1928 and the Rangers were only in their second season of existence. They were facing the the Montreal Maroons in the Stanley Cup Finals after yeeting the Pittsburgh Pirates (yes, they had a baseball and hockey team with the same name at the same time) and Boston Bruins from the playoffs in the first two rounds.

To set the stage for this surreal story, because the second year Rangers weren’t expected to make it to the Stanley Cup Final, Madison Square Garden was rented out to the circus during the time of the Finals (something that happened multiple times to the Rangers), meaning all games had to be played in Montreal.

The Maroons were led by Nels Stewart, the league’s third-leading goal scorer that season. He had four more goals than the closest Ranger (Frank Boucher) despite playing three fewer games. The Maroons also had Hall of Fame goalie Clint Benedict in net, who had a 1.70 goals against average (GAA) that season. For context, the average GAA in the NHL last seasonΒ was 2.82.

Benedict was the first NHL goalie to wear a mask, 30 years before Jacques Plante did it regularly. Photo: HHOF Images

It made sense the that in the first game of the best-of-five Finals, Benedict stole the show in a shutout 2-0 Montreal victory.

Game two, on April 7, 1928, is when Patrick was forced into action.

With the score tied 0-0 early in the second period, Nels Stewart would make his mark in the series, taking a high shot on Rangers’ goalie Lorne Chabot that hit him in the eye. Chabot could not finish the game after the injury and the Rangers found themselves in a pickle.

You see, back in those days NHL teams didn’t have backup goalies. The practice was to find another goalie in the stands to finish the game if need be. Luckily for New York, Alex Connell, the goaltender for the Ottawa Senators at the time, was in the Montreal Forum as a spectator for game two. Unluckily, the Rangers needed permission from Montreal’s manager, Eddie Gerrard, to use Connell and he refused – obviously trying to create an advantage for his team. The Rangers also asked to use an amateur goalie they had found at the game, but Gerrard denied that request too.

Patrick, pissed off about what was happening and not wanting to take away a player from this team, agreed to play net in full equipment for the first time in his life at 44 years old. Thus becoming the oldest player to ever play in the Stanley Cup Finals. It was also the only time a team’s acting GM and coach had played in net in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Patrick in Chabot’s goalie gear. Photo: HHOF

Maybe the Rangers and Patrick were inspired by the situation or just infuriated about what had happened with Gerrard, but either way they played great hockey for the last two periods. The Rangers were able to take a 1-0 lead before that pesky Nels Stewart snuck one past Patrick to tie it up with six minutes left in the game.

That would be the last goal the Maroons would get by Patrick, as he shut them down for the last few minutes of regulation and held them off the scoresheet in overtime. His play allowed the team to make it to the seven minute mark of the period, where Frank Boucher was able to get in on a breakaway and lift a puck over Benedict for a Rangers victory.

The Rangers skipped past the OT goal-scorer and rushed Patrick, carrying him off the ice as their game two hero. Patrick had managed to stop 17 of 18 shots he faced on his way to being the only emergency backup to ever win a game in the Stanley Cup Finals. All at 44 years old.

David Ayres only stopped eight of ten shots he faced, in a regular season game, that his team already had the lead in. He only got the win in the record books because he let in two goal, making him the goalie of record for the win. Plus he had always been a goalie, practiced with Leafs, and was only a paltry 42 years young at the time.

It’s not even close for what the better story in comparison to Patrick.

NOTE: I feel at this time it’s important to state that the above is sarcasm above, they’re both great stories, and David Ayres seems like a great guy and his is probably the better feel-good story.

The Rangers would go on to be approved to use Joe Miller, a goalie who had played with the New York Americans during the regular season. Miller would only allow three goals in three games, losing 2-0 in game three before shutting out Montreal 1-0 in game four and winning game five 2-1. Patrick and the Rangers were Stanley Cup Champions in only their second season in the league.

Photo: New York Rangers. Edit: Billsportsmaps

Patrick would also win two more championships as the Rangers manager (one more as coach/manager) before retiring as manager in 1946. He was inducted into the HHOF, Canada Sports Hall of Fame, and British Columbia Hall of Fame.

I’m sure the next 40 plus years worked out great for the Rangers after he retired too.

And that ends our fairy tale of the original David Ayres or the original emergency backup goalie – Lester Patrick.

Stay tuned to the site and our Facebook page for more from Hooked on Hockey Magazine!

Steve Auld

Steve Auld

My name is Steve and I am from the very noble Auld clan of Niagara, where we respect our elders and follow the golden rules: elbows up, and keep your stick on the ice. When not tearing up beer league or ball hockey, I enjoy the occasional downtime I have with my fiancΓ©e and son. Love me some music too, all kinds. If you feel I did a good job or you want to argue, feel free to leave a comment!
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