MONTREAL – After making the most of his years working in the QMJHL, Donald Dufresne was ready to face a new challenge. So when an old teammate invited him to make the leap to the American League, it didn’t take much thought before Dufresne gladly snapped up the gig.
With the titles of assistant-coach, head-coach and assistant general-manager of the Rimouski Océanic already filling out his CV, it was clear to Dufresne that he had accomplished as much as he could within the Bas-Saint-Laurent organization. Luckily for him, in the days following Sylvain Lefebvre’s hire as the Hamilton Bulldogs’ bench boss the club’s focus shifted toward the hunt to find the right assistant-coach to bring out the best from the team’s defensive core.
“When I got the call from Sylvain, we began discussing the sort of philosophy he wanted to institute and asked me if I’d be interested in moving on from Rimouski after having been part of the organization for so many years,” explained Dufresne, who had spent seven of the past 12 years with the Océanic. “The way he sold me on what he envisioned doing in Hamilton and the direction he has in mind for the team immediately got me on board. It sounded like a great challenge.”
With some history already behind them, having played together for five seasons as part of the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge, Defresne and Lefebvre kept in touch over the years as they continued their off-ice tutelage of the hockey business. While Lefebvre may have spent the last several seasons working at the NHL level, he had no doubt that his old friend was primed to make the jump to the AHL and give the Habs’ hopefuls the benefit of his wealth of knowledge and experience in 2012-13.
“With everything I’ve picked up over the last couple of years as a coach, coupled with everything else I learned from my playing days, I know I’ll be able to help the young guys in Hamilton. I went through exactly the same thing as them; working hard to make my way up through the AHL ranks and get to the NHL,” expressed Dufresne, winner of the 1993 Stanley Cup with the Canadiens. “I had to deal with bouncing back and forth between the two leagues and the kind of emotions that surface when you get sent back down. There’s a lot I feel I can share with these guys that will help them on their way.
“What’s more is that they’ll also have all the experiences of guys like Vincent Riendeau, Ron Wilson and Sylvain to draw from, too,” he added. “Sylvain has a keen eye for detail, and making sure players prepare properly is crucial for him. When our players are ready to make the jump to the next level, they’ll already have all the tools necessary to succeed and enjoy long careers.”
Dufresne’s extensive experience at all stages of the game can only pay dividends for the Bulldogs’ young blue-liners who will be kicking off their professional careers this fall – especially as they learn to grapple with shutting down a faster, stronger and more experienced breed of forwards than they’ve previously dealt with. The 45-year-old coach will be doing all he can in hopes of helping the Canadiens’ most promising defensive prospects achieve their full potential.
Part of his job will also be to balance coaxing the best performances out of his top prospects while helping them manage the high expectations placed upon their shoulders as every player takes a different route to becoming a top athlete. It will be the responsibility of the nine-year NHL veteran to help the up-and-comers see past their external distractions, and invest 100% of themselves into the task at hand.
“There are going to be players that can adapt very quickly, while other will need more time. There's always a question of maturity that goes along with this, but the AHL tends to have a very high calibre of player,” said Dufresne, who will be working closely with Morgan Ellis, Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi this season. “These are all players that aspire to make the NHL. Some guys will take to the new rhythm right away; others will have a tougher time.
“That’s where all the experience and advice they’ll be surrounded with will be important for them,” he concluded. “The fact that they’ll get to work closely with people that have already ‘been there and done that’ is what’s going to help them make a successful transition.”