When an athlete begins their professional career, nobody really knows what will happen or how long it’ll last. Few are fortunate enough to find success that distinguishes themselves from the pack, and fewer still are lucky enough to be idolized by their fan base. With his 100th goal as a member of the Toledo Walleye, Evan Rankin has achieved both and solidified his legacy as a Toledo Walleye! His success on the ice is not the only reason for his popularity in Toledo, Rankin’s community contributions and fan interactions have set him apart from the rest of the pack. Always quick to pose for a picture, or take part in various Walleye sponsored community events, Rankin’s impact has been significant throughout his career. So much so that the City Council of Toledo recognized him with a resolution on January 24th honoring the forward and all he has down for our city. Rankin joins an elite group of current and former Walleye players that have forever left their mark on the franchise.
In the NHL the phrase ‘The Captain’ usually references Red Wings legend Steve Yzerman. However, in Toledo ‘The Captain’ is used when describing the first Walleye inductee into the Toledo Hockey Hall of Fame: Kyle Rogers. Rogers’ professional career began during the 2007-08 season with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL, where he remained until the 2010-11 season. That’s when Kyle joined a young Toledo Walleye franchise, and played the rest of his career in Toledo, with the exception of three AHL games. Over the course of five seasons Rogers set multiple franchise records: 319 games played, 69 goals scored, 108 assists tallied, and 177 total points scored. Though his record for goals and points have both been broken by Rankin, and Shane Berschbach has surpassed his assist total, Rogers has still played more games for the Walleye than anyone else. It seems rather fitting though, because Kyle was never a selfish player that set out for the glory on his own. A natural leader on the ice and off, Rogers served as the captain for the Walleye from the 2011-12 season until the end of the 2014-15 Kelly Cup Playoffs. Upon hanging up the skates Rogers picked up the mic and joined the Walleye broadcast team, where he continues to serve today as a play-by-play caller and color commentator for home games. One of the reasons that the Walleye are as successful and recognized as they are today is due to Kyle Rogers’ contributions to the franchise. He was a steadfast leader and motivator during both good and bad seasons, and helped mold young players into successful hockey players and gracious men. One of those men he almost certainly had an impact on, and another Toledo legend, is Walleye Warrior Alden Hirschfeld.
I haven’t been shy about speaking Alden’s praises in the past, and it’s safe to say the Walleye community feels the same way. Hirschy has had an impressive career to date with the Walleye: since joining Toledo at the start of the 2013 season he has 48 goals in 168 games played along with 78 assists. Before turning pro Alden played both high school (Sylvania Northview) and college hockey (Miami OH) in Ohio; his former high school is a mere 20-minute drive from the Huntington Center. Sporting the Alternate Captain’s ‘A’ patch, Hirschfeld has been instrumental in helping young talent adjust to professional hockey. Recently he has been on a line with Detroit Red Wings prospect Zach Nastasiuk, and you could see a drastic improvement in Zach’s game when on the same line as Hirsch and Berschbach. Perhaps the greatest trait that Alden brings to the Walleye is how much he gives back to the fans. An absolute fans favorite, he is sure to take advantage of community events to spend time with the Walleye faithful. During warmups he keeps an eye out for young fans as well, I was able to watch Hirsch connect with a little girl prior to the start of one game and toss her a warm up puck before he headed off the ice. Safe to say that this wasn’t the first souvenir he gave to a spectator, Alden has been in numerous pictures and signed many autographs over the years. Alden’s grace and humble nature have only grown since his medical emergency last January, after he suffered a season ending seizure on the Grand Rapid Griffin’s bench. After overcoming the scare and undergoing brain surgery, Alden’s return to the ice in Toledo solidified his place as a Walleye legend. Two former teammates of Hirschfeld’s have also made a lasting impression on the Walleye faithful: Cody Lampl and Jeff Lerg.
‘No Rebounds’ and ‘Fear the Beard’ are two phrases that describe Lerg and Lampl respectively. Jeff Lerg was a product of Michigan State University, winning a National Championship alongside Justin Abdelkader at the end of the 2006-07 season. Despite his impressive colligate career, Lerg went undrafted and has never been given the chance at the NHL, primarily due to his size. Standing at 5’ 6”, his small frame caused him to be passed over by NHL Scouts. I can personally tell you that his small frame does not inhibit his ability to be a remarkable goaltender. Out of 87 games played for the Walleye Lerg won 60 of them, both of which are records, along with: Goals Against Average (2.27), Save Percentage (.922), and posted more shutouts (7) than any other Walleye netminder. The undersized goalie never gave up on plays, was focused every second on the ice, and found ways to excel when logic pointed to failure. Lerg is also one of the few Walleye to make SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays, earning the number 1 spot thanks to his Hasek-like rolling save against the Fort Wayne Komets in overtime. Jeff’s never give up mentality, along with his liveliness in the crease, earned him the adoration of Toledo fans almost instantly. As for defensemen, Cody Lampl may hold claim as the most popular in Walleye history. Similarly to Lerg, Cody only played two seasons with Toledo, but those two seasons left a considerable impact on both Toledo and on Lampl himself. A bull with the skates on, if any opposing skater dared to make a run on a teammate they answered to The Beard. It didn’t take long for ‘Fear The Beard’ to develop as a favorite cry when Lampl stepped into someone, but the fans also left an impression on the bearded bruiser. At the end of the 2014-15 season Lampl recalled a special moment with fans at the Huntington Center. Prior to a home playoff game, he stood in the hallway leading to the bench along with the previous head coach Derek Lalonde. Lampl found himself in awe due to the energy and size of the crowd, and could only look at Coach Lalonde in amazement. Not forgetting this moment, when Lampl did choose to leave Toledo for pro hockey in Germany, he did so after getting a new fish hook tattoo to commemorate his time with the Walleye. On his Twitter Cody has said that he misses Toledo, and continues to interact with the Walleye Twitter account as recently as this month. Maybe we’ll get to see our favorite Beard back in Toledo before the end of his career.
I’m sure that many older and wiser Walleye faithful will have their own additions to my short list, and within a few years more will surely be added. A.J. Jenks, Shane Berschbach, and Jared Nightingale may very well earn a spot in Toledo Walleye lore due to their contributions to the franchise. Many players over the years have given their heart and soul for our franchise, from fresh faced college grads to grizzly veterans ending their career in T-Town. Evan Rankin, a veteran himself after skating for 9 different teams across 3 different leagues over 9 years, has most definitely earned a spot as a Walleye legend. Now one thing remains on his to do list: Win a Kelly Cup. Let’s Go Walleye!
Kyle Rogers photo credit to:
Unless otherwise noted pictures are my own