“Never, never, never, never give up,” Winston Churchill once said.
Less than two years ago, Dan Gendur was about to disobey the former Prime Minister’s wise words. Gendur was struggling to earn a regular shift with the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League and he strongly considered giving up his lifelong dream to become a professional hockey player.
“I wasn’t having fun playing hockey in Prince George and I actually almost hung ‘em up and just went back to go to school,” said Gendur in reminiscence. “But then I got the call from Everett to go and play for them and opportunities just arose and now here we are.”
Gendur’s long time friend and now fellow Canucks prospect Taylor Ellington may have had a little bit of Churchill in him. As it turns out, Ellington convinced Gendur to stay the course and played a significant role in his buddy’s positive turn around.
“It’s been well documented that Taylor’s probably one of my best friends,” said Gendur, who also credits his parents for their support during his rough times. “I was calling him and telling him that I was going to go home and he just said to keep it together and I guess the whole time I was calling him he was talking to Everett about me coming in and helping the team in whatever way I could. He was a guy that basically got me into Everett and started my success there.”
On November 28th, 2006, Taylor Ellington received an early morning phone call from Doug Soetaert, the Everett Silvertips Vice President and General Manager, asking about his thoughts on Gendur. For a brief instant, Ellington became a salesman, rather than a hockey player.
And his sales pitch was effective. Gendur was acquired by the Silvertips for a sixth round pick later that day, and soon proved worthy of much more. Gendur recorded 42 points in 48 games in his first season with the ‘Tips, and led the team in scoring last season with 84 points in 60 games, surpassing the point totals of Zach Hamill, Boston’s first round pick in 2007, and Kyle Beach, Chicago’s first round pick in 2008.
“I don’t think it was really anything I changed; a lot of it was the opportunity Everett gave me when I got traded there,” admitted Gendur of his new found offensive production in the dub. “Playing with two great players in Kyle Beach and Zach Hamill obviously helped me. Also, the coaching philosophy in Everett is quite demanding. Having a guy like Kevin Constantin as your coach, he demands the best out of you and if you don’t give him the best, he’s not scared to sit you on the bench or let you know that you did something wrong.”
Silvertips’ head coach John Becanic also agrees that it was mostly a matter of opportunity that helped Gendur discover the confidence he ultimately needed to succeed.
“He made the most of the opportunity he got in the middle of the season as a 19-year-old,” said Becanic who became the second coach in Silvertips’ history in 2007 after serving as an assistant to Constantin since 2005. “We needed a winger to play with Beach and Hamill and that was the opening he slid into. He got an opportunity to play with some pretty talented players and last season he came into the season with all kinds of confidence. He was finally healthy for the first time in a long time and I think that just led to high offensive production with opportunity.”
Many are finding it difficult to think of Gendur’s impressive point totals as anything more than reflection of his opportunity. Playing alongside two top tier NHL prospects, the general conception is that anyone could put up big numbers. And while Gendur isn’t denying that the opportunity to play with Beach and Hamill was a good one, he isn’t about to sell himself short either.
“Well, I mean obviously looking at my stats from the other two years I had in the WHL and coming over to Everett and putting up some big numbers, obviously people are going to [question my abilities],” acknowledged Gendur. “But at every level I’ve played I’ve been able to put up points, it just took me a little bit longer to get used to the game. There were some philosophies in Prince George that I didn’t really approve of or I didn’t like compared to Everett. I think it was just the opportunity that the whole coaching staff and management in Everett gave me that made me flourish.”
Becanic is also quick to defend Vancouver’s seventh round selection in the 2007 entry draft.
“Dan worked hard; I think whomever he would have played with would have done well,” said Becanic. “Dan’s a good player in his own right, obviously Zach’s a pretty talented player as is Kyle, but Dan did a lot of special things individually that I think allowed him to also be a great player.”
So what are those special things that made Gendur the Silvertips’ MVP last season? Both Becanic and Gendur are in agreement that his shot and speed are at the top of the list. Becanic went as far as saying that Gendur already possesses an “NHL shot and NHL speed.” But the Victoria native also prides himself of another element to his game.
“The stat that really pleases me is being a +14 throughout the season when there were only a couple of us on the team who were plus. I think that showed my versatility and my overall game.”
What’s more, Becanic believes that Gendur’s focus and attitude off the ice has also played a role in his recent successes.
“He’s pretty intense and holds himself to a pretty high standard, he’s very self critical. He’s not pleased when he doesn’t play well, and he can be quite honest about his performance. If he doesn’t play well, he has no problems admitting it. He’s really hard on himself as I think all great athletes are.”
It’s apparent that Gendur has graduated from the WHL oozing with confidence, but it remains to be seen whether this will translate into triumph at the next level. Gendur’s main focus has been improving his strength and conditioning this off-season, as he has spent the entire summer in Vancouver in preparation for training camp.
The Canucks have yet to express their desire or plans to Gendur for the upcoming season, but that hasn’t changed his perspective one bit.
“I’m obviously not going into training camp thinking I’m going to be down in the minor league system; I’m going there to make the team and prove myself,” said Gendur, who remains unsigned. “If something happens where I go down to Manitoba (AHL) or even my hometown in Victoria (ECHL), I’ll take everything in stride and just continue to develop how I think I need to develop.”
While it remains unclear where Gendur will end up this season, Becanic believes that the future does look bright for his former star.
“If you start comparing apples to apples in terms of players who have left this league, I’d say he’s got a real good shot [to be a professional hockey player],” said the Silvertips’ head coach.
Just like it did less than two years ago, Gendur’s fate will likely again come down to one simple thing: opportunity.
“Guys are getting a lot of opportunities and I’m just hoping that I get an opportunity myself. Basically, my hockey career is going to be determined in the next five weeks or so at training camp and in my preparation for training camp.”
If his past experiences are any indication, Dan Gendur will get an opportunity, and when he does, be certain that he’ll make the most of it.
Farhan Devji is the author of a hockey based novel, “The Hockey Farmer.” For more information, visit thehockeyfarmer.ca.tp.