ELMIRA — Garrett Rank is just five weeks away from another milestone moment.
The Elmira native and accomplished two-sport performer will make his National Hockey League regular-season debut on Jan. 15 when he referees a game between the Buffalo Sabres and Minnesota Wild.
The game will be played at Buffalo's First Niagara Center. A busload of about 50 friends and family is expected to travel across the Peace Bridge to lend support and witness the occasion.
"The nerves are going to be flowing for sure but I'm really excited for it," said Rank, 27, who learned of the assignment in late November. "It's something I've been working on for the past four or five years and I'm sure I'll have a smile on my face and be pretty happy when I'm out there."
Rank, who is also a successful amateur golfer, was signed to an NHL officiating contract in late August and has been working American Hockey League games since the start of the season. He worked as an Ontario Hockey League official last year.
His most recent AHL assignment was Sunday in San Antonio, Texas. He'll head to New York later this week for games in Binghamton on Friday and Rochester on Saturday.
"I'm enjoying it. The last month has been a bit of a grind with a lot of travelling but it's a lot of fun to do this as a job," he said.
Travelling has been a big part of Rank's life for the past several years as a referee in the winter and a member of Golf Canada's national amateur team in the spring and summer.
He could have stayed on with the Golf Canada program for a fourth season in 2015 but was unable to make the time commitment that was expected of him.
Instead, the University of Waterloo graduate will focus on making a go of it as a referee while continuing to play a scaled-back competitive golf schedule when the hockey season ends.
Next summer's schedule will include an appearance at the Royal Bank of Canada Canadian Open at Glen Abbey in Oakville. Rank secured an exemption into the PGA Tour event by winning this year's Canadian mid-amateur championship in Barrie.
"I'm going to give this (officiating) an honest shot and an honest run. This is a great job and a great way to make a living," said Rank.
"I'll have my summers off and I still play a bunch of tournaments. ... I haven't given up on the golf dream; it's just taking a back seat at the moment."
Rank has faced difficult hurdles on his way to the top, including a scare from testicular cancer in 2011. He underwent surgery in the early part of the year and rebounded that summer with an outstanding golf season that concluded with him being named to Team Canada for the first time.
And in January of this year, Rank's father, Richard, died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 57. Richard was a referee and tireless supporter of minor hockey in Woolwich Township and introduced Garrett to the officiating side of the sport as a teenager.
Rank worked three NHL pre-season games earlier this year, with his first coming on Sept. 22 in London in a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers.