Calgary

'I had to make sure I was here': Zamboni hockey hero champions Green Shirt Day

On March 6, Ayres committed his newfound stardom — and shifted his entire schedule — to champion a cause that's close to him personally: the Calgary kickoff of the second-annual Green Shirt Day.

Kidney recipient David Ayres and Humboldt dad Toby Boulet talk the 'Boulet Effect'

David Ayres, left, and Toby Boulet, right, kicked off the campaign for Green Shirt Day in Calgary on Friday. (Vincent Bonnay/CBC)

Zamboni driver turned NHL star David Ayres became the stuff of hockey mythology when he triumphantly served as an emergency goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes last month. But after a kidney transplant in 2004, no one thought the Cinderella story would be more unlikely than the former junior goalie.

"I never thought I'd play hockey again at that moment," Ayres said. "To go from that to what happened ... is just unbelievable, unreal."

The night of the game — Feb. 22 —  Ayres stopped eight out of 10 shots in a defence so crushing, it helped the Hurricanes wallop the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 6-3 victory.

And on March 6, Ayres committed his newfound stardom — and shifted his entire schedule — to champion a cause that's close to him personally: the Calgary kickoff of the second-annual Green Shirt Day.

Second chance

"I had to make sure I was here," Ayres said Friday morning at the Calgary Airport Marriott In-Terminal Hotel. "Obviously it's really close to my heart."

The campaign was created last year in memory of Logan Boulet, one of the Humboldt Broncos crash victims, to raise awareness about organ donation.

Logan Boulet's father Toby said the connection between Green Shirt Day and Ayres — who received a kidney from his mother when he was 27 years old — was a clear one.

"He understands he got a second chance," Toby said.

"And we know that Logan gave second chances to many people. He made six people's lives better. So, the connection is obvious to us, and to them."

The Logan Boulet Effect

When the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team's bus collided with a semi-truck in Saskatchewan — killing 16 people and injuring 13 others last April — it was a tragedy that many Canadians seemed to experience viscerally.

Logan Boulet, a 21-year-old Broncos defenceman, was taken to a hospital in Saskatoon with a severe brain injury.

The summer before, he had told his dad he wanted to be an organ donor. When he died on April 7, 2018, his organs were donated across Canada.

It led to what is now known as the "Logan Boulet Effect": thousands of Canadians registered to become organ donors.

Logan's family now encourages Canadians to wear green on April 7 to spark conversations about the importance of organ donation.

Humboldt Broncos player Logan Boulet, 21, was from Lethbridge, Alta. Boulet had recently signed an organ donation card and was kept on life support while matches were found for his organs. He was expected to save the lives of at least six people. (SJHL)

According to Joyce Van Deurzen — executive director of the Kidney Foundation for southern Alberta and Saskatchewan — the impact of the Logan Boulet Effect has been transformative in Canada.

"Hundreds of thousands of people in this country have been influenced by this," Van Deurzen said.

"It's the biggest single thing that has ever created that kind of momentum, that kind of hope, that kind of inspiration."

'There's so much to do'

This year Green Shirt Day has only grown in its momentum as people who received organs have been galvanized to support their cause, Toby said.

He said 300,000 Canadians registered to become organ donors since the campaign began.

"I retired last year just because of this. There's so much to do," Toby said.

The Boulet family and the Green Shirt Day mandate, he said, are cheered on by the public. 

Canadians encourage their advocacy with a steady stream of support, in person and across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Toby Boulet, Logan Boulet's father, said Green Shirt Day has gained so much traction that he retired to manage it. (Vincent Bonnay/CBC)

Repeating their words like a mantra, Toby's emotion becomes evident: "'Thank you Boulets, don't stop, keep pushing.'"

"We're never scared of work, Logan's not scared of work, our daughter Mariko's not scared of work. So, we work," Toby said.

"And we need to work together to bring organ transplant awareness to Canadians again. And again, and again, and again. Because one day, the Green Shirt Day will slowly disappear."

The Boulets, Toby said, will probably need to step back one day. From there, Canadians will be the ones to carry Logan's legacy.

"I don't know if the Boulets can do this for 30 years," Toby said. "Eventually ... It has to be driven by society."

According to the Kidney Foundation, there are currently about 5,000 Canadians waiting for an organ donation.

With files from Terri Trembath, Joshua Clipperton and CBC Saskatchewan

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