Toledo Walleye forward Evan Rankin announced his retirement today. Rankin is the team's all-time leading scorer and one of the franchise's most popular players. BLADE PHOTO
Walleye veteran forward Evan Rankin, the organization's all-time goal scoring leader, has opted to hang up his skates.
Rankin, who has played in 238 games over five seasons with the Walleye, announced his decision to retire from professional hockey on Friday.
The 31-year-old native of Portage, Mich. said the time felt right to move his life in a different direction. Rankin, a durable forward who produced many memorable goals in Toledo, steps down as the organization's all-time leader in career goals with 111.
Rankin, who was part of the team during its first season in 2009-10, became one of the most popular players among the fan base in the team's eight-year history. The winger said he plans to remain in the Toledo area and will start a local charitable foundation.
“It took me a long time to finally make the decision to take this path,” Rankin said. “I feel called to doing greater things throughout our community. God is pulling me to this new venture.”
Last season, Rankin tied for fourth on the team in scoring with 55 points. He had 28 goals and 27 assists in 66 regular-season games He then had 14 points with eight goals and six assists in 17 playoff games, fourth best on the team.
Rankin helped lead Toledo to the Brabham Cup as the Walleye posted the ECHL's best record in the regular season. The team then made it to the Western Conference Finals in the playoffs. But Rankin said falling short of winning the Kelly Cup was a major disappointment.
“I really wanted to win the championship for Toledo. That is the one thing that eluded me here,” Rankin said.
He finishes his career ranked second in Walleye history in games played (238), points (214), and third in career assists (103).
During the team's inaugural season in 2009-10, Rankin led the team in goals scored with 32.
The University of Notre Dame graduate also holds the record for most goals scored in a game. He scored five goals in a game on two occasions in 2010 and then in 2016.
“The thing that I love most about playing hockey here is when we won as a team at home and celebrating on the ice,” Rankin said. “I always took time to look up in the stands [at the Huntington Center]. It's something you can't describe. You feel all these emotions. You can feel the fans in that moment. All of those things changed my life.”
Walleye general manager Neil Neukam called Rankin “a definitive fan favorite on and off the ice.”
“We will always be grateful for his contributions to the organization and community as a whole,” Neukam said. “Evan's uncanny ability to find the back of the net and scoring prowess will always be remembered.”
The affable forward was widely respected and received a proclamation from Toledo City Council in January. In April, Rankin earned the most votes in The Blade's “My Favorite Walleye” online poll.
Last season, Rankin earned national praise when he appeared twice on ESPN's SportsCenter for goals that he scored.
Rankin ranks second in total games played in a Toledo uniform behind Walleye hall of fame member Kyle Rogers (319). He finishes as the career leader in game-winning goals with 16 and career shots on goals with 730.
“I'll miss the locker room and the relationship with the guys,” he said.
Rankin was tenacious, yet personable and Walleye coaches Nick Vitucci, Derek Lalonde, and Dan Watson all regarded Rankin as a true pro with a strong work ethic.
A devout Christian, the upbeat Rankin also is committed to charity work.
“I've been able to be more reflective and appreciative of the big moments and milestones,” Rankin said.
Rankin seriously contemplated retirement after the 2015-16 season. He is married to Oregon native and local television reporter Jenna Lento. Last week, the couple announced that the couple is expecting a child next March.
“I'm so pumped to be a parent,” Rankin said. “It's a huge blessing.”
Rankin said he is looking forward to staying involved in the community through his charitable foundation.
Rankin said he hopes to use his name recognition and other former Walleye players to build up the charity.
“I want to start my own foundation,” he said. “I have the momentum now. The heartbeat is going strong. I feel the Toledo community will be with me.”
The concept, which will include ties to his pro hockey career, is in the design stages. But a Website will be launched soon. Rankin said the group likely will be called 86 Foundation in homage to his jersey number.
“When you are in our position as a professional athlete, you can help others,” he said. “We hope to host special events and fund raising efforts. I want to give a little bit back to our city and for the kids.”
Prior to turning professional, Rankin spent four years at Notre Dame where he had 41 points (20 G, 21 A) in 143 games. He then played nine seasons of pro hockey, including 221 games at the American Hockey League level (56 G, 59 A).
“I tried to learn the little habits and pick up on tendencies against teams,” he said. “If you can consistently see a situation, you can react. I wanted to be where the team needed me most in whatever role that was. I wanted to be like a Swiss Army knife.”
The litany of injuries Rankin sustained in his career is a testament to the sacrifices the forward made both Toledo and in various other stops.
The list includes two concussions, a broken leg, a high ankle sprain, a slice to the knee that required 16 stitches, chipped teeth, two broken thumbs, torn labrums in both shoulders that required surgeries, pulled groin muscles, and a quadriceps contusion that caused his leg to swell up to twice its size.
“I've broken my nose countless times – that's pretty obvious,” Rankin said, chuckling. “I've taken sticks and pucks to my head, slap shots to my face. I have 13 scars all over my face.”
But in the same breath, Rankin said he'd endure it all over again in a heartbeat.
“If you look at how many games I played in, I've battled through a lot,” he said. “But it was worth it, every bit of it. In a way it felt so worth it, to pay the price because I care about the people I was playing with and for. I was always willing to do those things. But I know I could have done some things better and been better in some situations.”
Rankin said working with various charities over the years with the Walleye opened his eyes.
“When we visit kids in the hospital, it changes you,” he said. “It means so much to those kids and their parents. It changes you for the better. That's something I'll never lose.”
Rankin said he has always wanted to bring people together.
“I hope they remember how much I love the game and I never felt like I was just playing for myself,” Rankin said. “I felt like I was playing for our city, my teammates, and for my family.”