Story and video by Kevin Bostiga
He saunters out of the pizzeria, big white box in hand. He looks both ways before lazily crossing in front of traffic in no rush. The 6-foot three-inch tall hockey defenseman smiles and laughs as he jokes about what a car not stopping could mean for his career.
His lackadaisical demeanor display, he enters his apartment at the Oaks in Storrs Center. He slides off his jacket to reveal a black futuristic looking athletic shirt with his name on the front in bold red lettering: “Gendron.”
Miles Gendron falls into the leather sectional couch that lines the walls, dropping his pizza on the massive round ottoman. The remaining sunlight shines through the walls of windows of his corner residence. He begins to talk as he shovels the pie in his mouth.
Gendron has occupied the blue line for the UConn Huskies every game this season. Sporting number 10 with a stylish fishbowl facemask, he’s netted two and helped with six more in 18 games. The bigger stat he boasts is a plus 10 or minus rating, which says more about his ability to defend than anything else. Not known to throw his weight around on account of the lack thereof, Gendron relies on his elusiveness and hockey sense to get the job done on the defensive end. Gendron is an offensive minded defenseman, and he knows why.
“My skating is my best attribute as a hockey player,” he said. The 190 pounds draped on his lofty frame looks not unlike a few beanstalks moving as one, but it is with good authority his eloquence on the ice is his best asset. His strength, the very opposite, but he makes up for with his intelligence.
Gendron committed to the University of Connecticut after turning down offers from Sacred Heart University and University of Vermont. Gendron said UConn’s switch to the Hockey East conference was a major factor in his decision.
“What it came down to was, UConn’s a new program,” he said. “I thought we had a chance to build something special, and I think we’re headed in that direction.”
Thanks to the conference switch, UConn’s schedule boasts some of the toughest opponents in college hockey, but college puck is just a stepping-stone to a bigger prize: the National Hockey League.
With NHL scouts at almost every high school game he played, Gendron was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the third round, 70th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft. It was a night he’ll never forget, filled with feelings he’ll never revisit.
Sitting, waiting, wishing to hear his name get called, he sat through 69 different names across two days with his girlfriend, Jackie. As he turned to her, predicting that the Chicago Blackhawks would take him with the 83rd pick, “from the Rivers School,” rang out on the loudspeaker.
“I stood up immediately, chills went through my body,” Gendron said. “It’s just something that I’ll never feel again.”
It’s with good authority that one could say the Senators pulled the trigger on the right guy that day in 2014. Both players and coaches have had good things to say.
Derek Pratt, captain of the Huskies, and fellow defenseman, said Gendron plays with an unusual, opportune set of attributes.
“With his size, I mean he’s tall, so for being that tall and being able to skate that well, it’s pretty impressive,” Pratt said. “And he just, he knows where to be, he gets in the right areas. So maybe where his strength lacks, he can be in the right areas with his skating.”
Gendron hopes to beef up to 205 pounds as soon as possible, but certainly before he sees ice with a professional organization. Despite his lack of strength, Miles is confident his play will translate well to the NHL.
“I think the NHL is switching to a more face paced speed game, so I think if I’m just using my feet and I don’t slow the game down, I think that benefits me that the games going that way,” he said.
Brendan Buckley, an assistant coach for the Huskies, echoed both Gendron’s and Pratt’s sentiments, saying that Gendron’s skating ability and offensive minded play makes him a great asset.
“That’s something we’ve worked [on] with him, is after we break the puck out, out of our defensive zone, he’s a guy I want to see join, be the second wave of offense,” Buckley said.
After the draft, Gendron would play a year in the British Columbia Hockey League for the Penticton Vees, where the team won the division and league titles. Playing 90 games helped him hone his skills at the defensive end, considering he had only started playing the position two years prior, thanks to his high school coach, Shawn McEachern. A position that Gendron said he could not admit he truly filled until he came to UConn.
After being cut from the U.S. U14 team, Gendron went to a development camp for team Massachusetts, which McEachern was in charge of. McEachern, an NHL veteran of five teams, one of which the Ottawa Senators, was on the ice for tryouts. Miles did not disappoint.
“I toe dragged him when he was playing in the drill,” Gendron said with his usual huge grin. A toe drag is when a player extends his reach on his dominant hand side, and uses the toe of the blade of the stick to drag the puck back, creating space between the puck and the defender. “He came up to me and was like, ‘You gotta come look at my school.’” Showing hesitation, McEachern told him, “You can’t say no without coming to take a look.”
Needless to say, it was a great choice for Gendron that would open a door he had been trying to unlock his whole life, with a key that he never expected.
Gendron’s attendance at the Rivers School in Weston Mass. helped both him and the school’s program. His freshman year, the team went 8-20. But thanks to recruits like Gendron, by the end of his senior year, the team had won two league championships, and qualified for the playoffs, which they had never done up to that point. During his junior year, McEachern switched him from forward to defense after his team was having trouble breaking the puck out of the defensive zone.
McEachern recalled that Gendron’s play on the powerplay led him to the switch. He also said that Gendron would always beat the first man out of the defensive zone, blowing past the competition, further reinforcing how good and natural a skater Gendron really is.
Players rarely switch positions that late in the game, which left Gendron initially agitated.
“Oh, I was pissed,” Gendron said. However, it ended up being for the best, as Gendron saw time with the puck on his stick a lot more at defense than offense.
After playing six games midway through his junior season, he switched back. His senior year, Gendron occasionally played forward, but still considered himself to be just that. It wasn’t until a USA Development camp when Gendron was again switched to defense and told by camp coaches, “You’re a defenseman.”
Forwards play up in the play, trying to put the puck in the net, or forecheck, badgering the opponent while on defense. Defense serves a more surveying role, hanging on the blue line, waiting patiently to keep the puck in the zone, and to be there to meet the opposition’s rush. Gendron described the different positions in terms of how both positions play in the offensive zone, a peculiar testament to his thoughts and play on the ice.
Born in Oakville, Ontario, to Charlie Gendron and Dawn Caroll, Miles Gendron moved to Shrewsbury, Mass. on his fifth birthday, the same year he picked up a hockey stick. Playing up an age group since his start because of natural ability, he was on three elite teams through his youth career, including the Minutemen Flames, the South Shore Kings, and the Boston Mission. Gendron said he was just about the best player on the team until he played for the Mission, where he played with the likes of Jack Eichel now of the Buffalo Sabres, and Ryan Donato of the Boston Bruins.
“I think I’d be better if my neighborhood played hockey,” Gendron said. “We didn’t even play street hockey.”
A multi-sport athlete until high school, Gendron was not quite your live for hockey type kid. He could swing a bat just as well, if not better than he could swing a hockey stick.
“I played ball in the spring and summer,” Gendron said. “Didn’t even touch the ice.”
The time off does not seem to have hindered his game, nor did it diminish his infatuation with the game. His teammates and coaches agree, he’s someone they like having on his team. And with the Ottawa Senators calling Gendron on a weekly basis, which hasn’t happened before, his qualities are shining more than ever, on and off the ice.
Derek Pratt said his reliability is constant, all the while keeping it light as can be.
“In terms of keeping it loose, he’ll joke around when maybe it’s a serious time, but he’s always focused,” Pratt said. “[He’s] someone you like to have on your team; someone you can rely on.”
Buckley again reiterated Pratt’s thoughts, saying that with experience, Gendron’s work ethic has made him a confident player on the ice.
“I think he’s a guy who’s pretty confident in his game right now, he’s positive,” Buckley said. “I never see him, kind of, yelling at other teammates, and I think he goes out there and works hard, and he wants to win. [He] shows by example.”
Buckley continued, saying that Gendron is just a pleasure to have on his team.
“Well, he’s fun to coach because you can tell he enjoys hockey,” Buckley said. “When we go to practice, a lot of times he’s got a smile on his face, which is fun. You have to enjoy it… He enjoys the process.”