Tuesday, Jan. 17, a day that New York Islanders prospect William Dufour will never forget.
When the 20-year-old woke up a bit later than usual, given it was an off day for the Bridgeport Islanders, he had two missed calls from Bridgeport general manager Chris Lamoriello.
“I called him back, and he told me to just eat well today, rest well, and I’m gonna call you back later today, hopefully with some good news for you,” William Dufour told NYI Hockey Now.
At 5:30 P.M. that night, Dufour got the call that every hockey kid dreams about.
“You need to be in Long Island tonight so you can do the morning skate tomorrow morning with the boys, Chris said, ” We don’t know yet if you’re going to play but be ready to play.”
The 20-year-old got in the car and drove to Long Island that night, but not before calling his parents to share the fantastic news. “They were both very excited for me,” Dufour said.
After skating with Mathew Barzal and Josh Bailey at morning skate the next day, Jan. 18, Dufour took to the ice later that night against the Boston Bruins at UBS Arena and got the full rookie treatment, including his rookie lap:
— Stefen Rosner (@stefen_rosner) January 18, 2023
“It was just a dream come true for me. Last year I remember when one of my best buddies got called up to the Washington Capitals, and he did his rookie lap, and in his first NHL game, he scored his first goal, and I was so happy for him,” Dufour said.
“A year later, it was me, so it was just amazing.”
It wasn’t the prettiest of debuts, as Dufour was benched for the final 29 minutes after making a few mistakes leading to goals. He played just 6:48, eight shifts, with no shots on goal.
Dufour shared what his first NHL shift was like:
“My first shift, I remember when I just received a pass on the board. The puck was there, and I just hear Barzal calling for the puck, so I passed it to the middle, and I don’t know how he did that [corralled the puck]. He’s so good. I passed it behind him, and I don’t know how he succeeded in bringing it on his tape and making a pass to Bailey on the near side,” Dufour said. “After the first shift, I think the energy was there. I was feeling it.”
“I was able to play against NHL guys.”
— Stefen Rosner (@stefen_rosner) January 19, 2023
The biggest thing that the 2020 Islanders draft pick noticed at the NHL level was that you cannot take a single shift off, whether that be in a game or at practice.
“In the NHL, you need to just work every day,” Dufour said. “For example, in juniors, some days I was not playing well, like I was playing horribly. And I could leave the game with three or four points.”
“In the NHL, if you take a day off, the other team gonna make you pay for that whether it’s a bad check or bad turnover,” Dufour said.
Dufour was quick to notice that despite the players around him making millions of dollars, there was this will to be great, every single shift.
“Looking at the other guys in the locker room, they’re pros with their routines,” Dufour said. “Even if they make millions of dollars, they are still passionate about the game of hockey and still keep grinding just to get better every day.
“So that’s something I definitely want to instill in me.”
Following the 4-1 loss to Boston, Dufour was sent back to Bridgeport.
“Lou told me I was going back down,” Dufour shared. “It was just a positive discussion in general. And I know I didn’t play the last 30 minutes of the game, but it’s just about learning, and it’s a phase that I just need to improve, and I’m going to learn from that.”
Lamoriello did not blame Dufour for what transpired in his debut.
“Lou told me there were no negatives. It’s just a learning experience,” Dufour said.
Despite wanting to stay in the NHL, as most players do, Dufour did not head back to Bridgeport with any spite. If anything, his cup of coffee in the NHL immediately made him want to get back on the practice ice and go to work.
“I mean, for sure, you want to stay there, but to be back [in Bridgeport], I just want to keep grinding and just maybe get called back this year, next year or whatever.”
In his first game back, Dufour scored the overtime winner against the Rochester Americans at Total Mortgage Arena.
LETS GOOO DUFOUR!! pic.twitter.com/UFreot3jua
— Bridgeport Islanders (@AHLIslanders) January 21, 2023
“Scoring that overtime goal for sure was great for me after being sent back down,” Dufour said.
Bridgeport head coach Brent Thompson had a simple message for William Dufour following his return to Bridgeport.
“He just told me I’ll live. I know what it takes to play in the NHL now… like I taste it,” Dufour said. “I’m going to be better every day, and I’m going to learn from it.”
“I went there for two days. So I’m going to learn from the two days, [learn] from the boys, and I will be better next time for sure.”