Draftees, Teammates, & Friends
Every kid who has ever played hockey in his neighbourhood street dreams of eventually playing in the NHL for his hometown team.
So when Victoria-native Taylor Ellington was selected as the Canucks 2nd pick (33rd Overall) at this year's NHL Entry Draft, he was undoubtedly seeing his childhood dreams come to fruition.
Ellington, the epitome of a stay-at-home defenseman, comes from a rich team in terms of depth, as fellow Everett Silvertip teammate Zach Hamill, the WHL's top scorer for the 06/07 season, was the Boston Bruins 8th overall selection in this year's draft. However, there was also one more Everett player selected at this past draft, and he has been well-known to Ellington for some time.
Dan Gendur, the Canucks 7th pick, (206th Overall) is a speedy right winger, who had a banner year with the Silvertips this past season, scoring 22 goals, and 49 points in 61 games, finishing with a plus-20. Not only is the 20-year-old Gendur a teammate of Ellington's, but he also hails from Victoria, and the two have known each other for years.
Ellington and Gendur join a number of Canucks draftees and potentials at this week's Prospect Development Camp, and the first-step in getting to play their first game with the big boys has been made all the easier by going through it together.
"We grew up not too far from each other," Gendur says, "it was probably less than a ten-minute drive or so."
"Well," Ellington interrupted with a grin, "Everywhere in Victoria is about five minute apart." Their friendship grew once they made it to the WHL. "We've probably been good friends for the last four years or so," Ellington said. "But we used to be rivals actually back when we were on different teams."
Their rivalry stemmed from when the year-older Gendur originally played for the WHL's Prince George Cougars in the 2004-05 season, before being traded to Everett in November of 2006. "I was there first [in Everett] and then Dan got traded there, and my billets took him in actually." Ellington said. "He ended up staying with me for the whole year which was cool."
Today, sitting in the Press Conference room of GM Place, finishing-up their hockey player staple-food of pasta and greens, they await Development Camp orientation, and try to relax after a morning of physical testing. The two talk over each other the way friends can only do, and are always up for a laugh.
They are in contrast to the smaller, less-developed picks that were common with this year's draft. Gendur, hovering around six feet and 200 pounds, is only slightly smaller than his 6'2" comrade. Both are still young, and are excited to continue their strength and conditioning training, knowing that they will continue to develop over the course of the summer.
Just to be drafted in the NHL had its own degree of surrealism for these two modest prospects, and Gendur is incredibly grateful to be given the chance to play in the NHL. "When I was in Prince George, opportunities were pretty limited. But coming to Everett basically saved my career. I owe a lot to people like Doug Soetaert (Everett's VP & GM). He believed in me from the very first day, and put me with some great players like Taylor."
Like his teammate, Ellington also shares a sense of gratitude for their WHL organization. "That's what the Silvertips do, they're just amazing, and we owe them so much."
MAKING IT COUNT
However, the road for these two - like that of most potential professional athletes - has been far from smooth. Before joining the Silvertips and ultimately finding his scoring touch, back in Prince George Gendur was a day away from giving up on hockey for good. "Opportunities and injuries just hampered me throughout my two and a half years there," Gendur recounts. "I had about five or six chats with Tay on the phone just about my motivation, and why I was doing this anymore, because I wasn't really having fun playing the game - which is pretty important."
Gendur was ready to go home and focus on school, and possibly play for his old Junior A team which he played for at age 16. After consulting with his friend, as well as with the Cougars' front office, Gendur eventually was traded to the Everett Silvertips the next day, was on the road at 5am, and has flourished ever since.
For Ellington, adversity has come in the form of watching his older brother adjust to living in a wheelchair. Two years ago, Ellington's older brother Spencer, two years his senior, was misdiagnosed with a condition called Transverse Myelitis - a neurological syndrome caused by inflammation of the spinal cord. Unfortunately, Spencer's condition was actually a number of broken blood vessels in his neck, resulting in his need for a wheelchair. Complete recovery is not yet known, however, Spencer has remained positive, and his outlook has only garnered continued adoration by, and inspiration for, his younger brother Taylor.
"He's always so positive," Ellington imparts with a smile. "He doesn't let it affect him or get him down. It's hard to watch that, especially your older brother who you look up to anyways. But to go through that and be so positive, it puts things into perspective. We have everything; the opportunities and also our health. So I'm not going to take anything for granted."
Growing from their struggles, the two appear to have channeled such hardships into the focus they share on the future, and the excitement they possess for the opportunity of playing for their home team. "The chances of being taken by Vancouver were slim," Ellington says as Gendur nods in approval. "And for both of us to be here, it's just been amazing and first-class all the way."
With their history, friendship, and nice-guy appeal, will these two future Canucks be roommates on the road, or are they just sick of each other by now?
"We'll have to see about that in the future," Ellington remarked with a laugh, only to be interrupted by Gendur.
"We'll know when the time comes!"