2015 is going to be a big year for Garrett Rank.
Already set to make his PGA Tour debut at the RBC Canadian Open in July, the Elmira native will referee his first NHL game next month.
“It is a huge honour and something that I have been working towards for quite a while now,” Rank said during a recent stop-off in his hometown. “With my father passing away (last January) and everything that has happened over the past couple of years, it is definitely a nice light at the end of the tunnel and something to keep me motivated.”
A member of the 2008 Cherrey Cup champion Elmira Sugar Kings, Rank excels on the ice and the links.
Last summer, the University of Waterloo graduate enjoyed a breakout golf season, winning the Canadian Men’s Mid-Amateur Championship and earning his spot at the 2015 PGA Canadian open after advancing to the round-of-sixteen at the prestigious United States Amateur Championship in August.
“I was really pleased with my golf last summer,” Rank said. “I had some really good finishes and was fortunate to earn an exemption into the Canadian Open next summer and I am really looking forward to that.”
The summer-winter divide between the two sports has worked out well for Rank, who has steadily risen up the officiating ranks over the past several years.
Last summer, he made the jump from Major Junior to the big leagues with an NHL contract.
“I got hired by the National Hockey League in the summer and knew I would be starting in the American Hockey League,” Rank explained. “They assign us to the minor leagues to allow us to develop and work on our craft down there and eventually when they feel we’re ready they try to work us in (to NHL games) a bit more.”
Now, Rank is required to travel across North America, officiating games for crowds in the thousands with players fighting for their livelihoods.
It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s also very exciting, he said.
“In terms of the hockey, the guys are bigger and faster,” Rank said of the difference between the OHL and the AHL. “You’re dealing with men now and they’re playing for their lives; that’s their job and that’s what they do, so there is a little more expected out of you and you have to be very professional.”
As an elite athlete himself, with experience playing in the Junior B and the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) ranks, Rank knows how the players think.
It’s a big advantage when wearing the stripes.
“I played for the Sugar Kings and when I graduated from there I went and played CIS hockey at the University of Waterloo and that sort of just gives you a feel for the game,” he said. “You kind of understand what the players are trying to do. When I played, I tried to break as many rules as possible, so from a hockey player’s point of view, I know what the guys are doing and sometimes I realize why the guys are doing some of the things that they are doing on the ice. So it’s definitely an advantage to have that hockey player background to have a feel for the game and to understand when there needs to be a penalty and when there doesn’t need to be a penalty with all of the different emotions that come through.”
Despite the exceptional athletic achievement and impressive career development, it hasn’t been an easy road for the 27-year-old.
In 2011, Rank was diagnosed with testicular cancer and had to undergo surgery.
And this year, on January 3, his father Richard, a longstanding volunteer with the Woolwich Minor Hockey Association, passed away at 57-years of age.
But Rank continues to work hard in pursuit of his dual passions.
Rank will make his NHL debut on January 15 at Buffalo’s First Niagara Centre in a game between the Sabres and the Minnesota Wild.