All good things must come to an end, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of good times. Toledo has come to recognize it’s hockey players as ambassadors for the community, those who represent the best of the city itself. With loyalty and individual excellence, certain players rise above the rest and capture the adoration of the entire community. Walleye players past and present have reached this level among fans, including Kyle Rogers, Cody Lampl, Jeff Lerg, and Alden Hirschfeld. One member of the Walleye elite announced his retirement as a player prior to the start of the 2017-18 season: Evan Rankin. Rankin has provided Toledo with countless thrills on the ice via game winning goals, shootout wonders, and the occasional fight as well. Equally known for his contributions to Toledo off the ice, Evan will now be moving forward teaching the sport he loves via the Professional Hockey Academy and supporting our city with his newest adventure: The Eight6 Foundation.
Over the course of nine professional years of hockey Rankin played in four different leagues for ten different teams. In 2008 Evan began his career with the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees of the now defunct Central Hockey League, lighting the lamp 28 times and earning 51 points in his first pro year. The following season is when the fun began for Toledo fans, as Evan brought his talents to the Walleye. Under the tutelage of Coach Vitucci, Toledo saw the evolution of the Michigan native into a star forward in the ECHL. By the end of 2012 there were 65 goals and 130 ECHL points to Evan’s name, he was an alternate captain for the Walleye, and he had become a well-established fan favorite. The time had come, however, to test the waters in the AHL. From 2012 through the spring of 2015 Rankin played for the Rochester Americans and the Syracuse Crunch, finding moderate success with the clubs. After skating for 142 contests between the teams he accumulated 38 goals and 76 total points, averaging 0.54 points per game. Not too shabby for the Portage, Michigan native. The city of Toledo continued to call to Evan though. When September of 2015 rolled around, Walleye fans learned of the return of number 86. In what turned out to be his final two years of hockey, Rankin helped Toledo make the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history, as well as three straight playoff berths for the first time in 2016. Upon his retirement, Rankin skated in 238 games for Toledo (second most in franchise history) and set multiple franchise records: 111 goals (ranks 1st in Walleye history), 16 game-winning goals (1st), 27 power play goals (1st), 103 assists (3rd), and 214 points (2nd). It’s easy to see why fans embraced Evan when looking at these numbers, but his involvement with the community is what made people truly idolize him.
Professional athletes have the distinct privilege of taking an active and far-reaching role for the community that they are a part of. Many offer their free time to participate in various events or programs that benefit fans, kids, or disadvantaged groups of people. Evan has been one of the leaders in this regard for Toledo. At the conclusion of the Walleye’s postseason run, Evan took little time to start his summer community work. He joined his wife Jenna Lento in her campaign to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) by hosting an event at the Blarney Irish Pub, a local pub in downtown Toledo. Together Jenna and Evan auctioned off various items from his playing career as well as items donated by local businesses and individuals. After a wonderful night of auctioning and fun, the couple were able to donate $6,700 to LLS, which went to assisting those afflicted with the disease in the area. Along with fundraising, Evan was sure to make himself available for meet and greets throughout the season. Fans had the opportunity to spend time with the team at the Toledo Zoo’s outdoor ice rink, at post game skates at the Huntington Center, or postgame parties throughout the season. Rankin was always available at these events for photos, autographs, and conversation for any and all who came up to him. You could tell that these events brought joy to the forward, as his smile was a sure sight whenever fans came up to meet their favorite Walleye. Evan’s largest contribution, however, may lie in his work with the various hockey camps in the Ohio-Michigan area.
Like many players across the country, Evan has participated in multiple youth hockey camps, working alongside participants and instructors from all over the Midwest. Some of these camps include the Toledo Walleye Youth Hockey Camp, Professional Hockey Academy (founded by Rankin himself), and the Special Hockey Fantasy Camp. Of particular interest is the last camp, as it was established to provide a hockey camp solely for special needs hockey players of all ages and skill groups. It was the product of Evan working together with Michigan Amateur Hockey Association (MAHA) Director of Disabled Hockey Marie Sly, whom is also a part of the West Michigan Special Hockey Association (WMSHA). I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Marie about the program and her roles with MAHA, WMSHA, and USA Hockey, be sure to check out the link at the end of the article for more infomartion. Both Marie and Evan have worked with families across the Midwest to provide these services and opportunities, as well as supporting local fundraising efforts. Rankin has become a yearly participant of the Andrew Gulch Memorial Golf Outing, which was also attended by Marie Sly this year. The event, which you may have heard about through us as we were a sponsor, is put on to raise money in support of those with Muscular Dystrophy. Through auctions, donations, and raffles the event raised $18,500 this year. Rankin participates in the event as he has grown close to the Gulch family (who run the outing), particularly with Nick Gulch whom the event benefits along with others affected by muscular dystrophy (the event is named after his brother). Evan has been instrumental in the events success over the years, as he has brought along fellow teammates to the event and made himself available for pictures, autographs, and interviews throughout the day. As a result, Evan’s actions have had a positive impact on people across the states of Ohio, Michigan, and beyond due to his generosity and commitment to being a positive influence on his community.
Now Evan has a new project, the freshly founded Eight6 Foundation. The nonprofit organization was created with the goal to unite the Toledo community together in an effort to build stronger relationships through sports, fundraising, and local business patronage. To start off their goal, they created a fundraiser under the vision of Evan to support local hockey programs and the Toledo Police Department’s Christmas program; which brings Christmas parties to children who are in the hospital during the holidays. The raffle/fundraiser will conclude this coming weekend (November 18th), when the winners will be drawn on the night of the Toledo Walleye game that features Evan Rankin’s bobblehead! Prizes include local business and sports program donations from the Toledo Walleye, University of Toledo Football Program, Dave and Busters of Toledo, and so many more generous businesses. An update will be provided once the raffle concludes as to how much money was raised, but it’s safe to say early on the amount will considerable.
After looking at the list of contributions and memories provided to the city of Toledo and its citizens, it’s easy to understand why Evan has the following that he does. Hockey players come and go in the ECHL, it’s the nature of the business, but rarely do they make an impact such as number 86 has. Evan and Jenna are also preparing for a new stage in their lives together, as they will be welcoming a son to their family this coming spring. Perhaps we will see another Rankin take the ice for Toledo in about 20 years time, with a certain star present to cheer him on.
Thank you Mr. Walleye for your dedication to Toledo, we all look forward to what the future holds!
For more information about any of the organizations listed throughout this article, or to purchase tickets for the Eight6 Raffle, be sure to follow these links:
Andrew Gulch Memorial Golf Outing:
The Eight6 Foundation:
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Northern Ohio:
MAHA Disabled Hockey with Marie Sly’s Contact Info:
Professional Hockey Academy (where you can buy raffle tickets):
Western Michigan Special Hockey Association:
For information about the Special Hockey Fantasy Camp that occurred this year, follow this link: