It didn’t take long for the basement to transform into a makeshift hockey rink, a significant sanctuary for a young boy with big dreams.

“I had a net set up in one end and I’d roller skate down and do a bunch of stuff,” said Mark Dufour, 16, of Winthrop. “I’d shoot around all the time. It’s what I did. I’d watch a game on TV and then go down there and try to do some of the stuff they were doing. I’d hit all the pipes and lights. I don’t know how many lights I broke.”

The black smears that dot the concrete wall provide ample evidence that enough games were played down here to fill a season, his father, Mike, says.

When he wasn’t letting pucks fly inside, Dufour took his game to the driveway or lawn outside his Winthrop home.

“We always knew where he was,” said Mike Dufour. “He was out shooting. It’s what he was always doing. He’d just shoot, and shoot, and shoot for hours. It’s just the kind of kid he was.”

And who is that kid now?

He’s a 6-foot-1, 184 pound junior at Kents Hill, who also happens to be a center on the hockey team. Coaches say he has a wicked shot, good hands, better poise and plays with an edge.

He’s also being heavily recruited by some of the top Division I college hockey programs in the nation, including the University of Maine.

Soon, Dufour will sift through his formal scholarship offers and decide which is the most appealing.

“I’m going to take this as far as I can,” Mark Dufour said. “Pro hockey, that’s always a goal. But I’m taking it short term right now, and that would be a Division I college. I’m exploring all my options now. I have a lot of opportunities out there. It’s really taken off the last couple of years.”

Indeed, it has. Dufour, who was in skates when he turned 3, has traveled the world to compete in several select and travel teams. Many, like the prestigious Beantown Classic in Marlboro, Mass., are invite-only.

Germany. The Czech Republic. Montreal. Ottawa. Quebec City.

Dufour’s played in them all.

Today, he is skating for the Middlesex Islanders, a Massachusetts youth hockey club coached by Sean Tremblay, who led the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs to six Dineen Cups in the Eastern Junior Hockey League.

In May, Dufour is scheduled to partake in the United States Hockey League draft combine in Chicago, Ill., the top junior outfit in the country.

“He’s just been so involved with all these tournaments,” Mike Dufour said. “But it’s worked out. He sleeps well in a car. He does homework well in a car. He’s had no problem being organized.”

Added Mark Dufour: “It really is hard to point to a specific point when it got real, real serious. It’s always been a dream. Just where it takes me, who knows?”

Dufour is always around hockey.

When he isn’t participating in tournaments or working as a youth hockey official, Dufour assists Ray Jean, a Gardiner native who runs the goalie school Own The Crease.

“He shoots at my goalies all the time,” said Jean, who retired from professional hockey in 2010. “Whatever college guys I have, or junior guys, I have him shoot on them. We run a lot of the lessons at Kents Hill and he is right there, which helps. Seeing the improvements Mark has made, his strength and skating, he definitely has a bright future in front of him. I’m excited to see what he does and look forward to watching him play.”

Dufour scored 25 goals for the Huskies this season. He helped Kents Hill to an 18-11-1 season and a berth in the New England Division I playoffs.

Collegiate and some pro scouts visited Bonnefond Ice Arena to watch Dufour and the Huskies play this winter.

Dufour, who attended what was then St. Mary’s School in Augusta from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, said he tried to ignore who might be watching him from the stands.

“I’d psyche myself out if I thought about that too much,” Dufour said. “I just tried to go out and do what I do, which is just play.”

And, Kents Hill coach Larry Cockrell said, Dufour did it quite well.

“He’s very strong around the net,” Cockrell said. “What I’ve told a lot of people is that you get him anywhere from 20 feet around the net, and he is a threat to score. He was one of our top centers. He could play almost any role and play it well. A couple different coaches contacted me and asked what kind of person he is. I just said he is a tremendous kid who works exceptionally hard. He’s very committed to the game of hockey.”

Dufour is contemplating several options for the fall. He could return to Kents Hill, go to another prep school, or play high-end junior hockey.

“It’s interesting,” Mike Dufour said. “From my standpoint, and (wife) Carol’s standpoint, we’re obviously very happy he has these opportunities. We want to guide him through the process. But it is exciting to sit and talk to some of these (coaches). The whole D-1 recruiting, it’s kind of one way. They look at you, they scout the player, and it’s in great detail over a period of time. Then, it’s basically, ‘we’ll call you, don’t call us.’

“It’s a process, and there all these steps you have to go through. He still has a long ways up the ladder to go.”

But Dufour, who is playing baseball at Kents Hill this spring, is climbing.

“I just want to go out there and play,” he said. “Things have come together. I’ve always wanted to play hockey, and I’ll take it as far as I can. It is exciting.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640

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