SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — When you are an elite level prospect, it can take some time to get used to the idea that you are not ready for college hockey.

That was the case two years ago for Mark Dufour, a native of Winthrop who at the time was finishing up at Kents Hill School and preparing to make the jump to Union College. Only Dufour was told what many high school graduates looking to play Division I hockey hear — go play junior hockey.

As the 6-foot-3, 197-pound forward began his freshman season with the Dutchmen last weekend, his skills were not the only things that had matured.

“Initially when I was told to take a few development years, I kind of hadn’t quite understood what that meant,” Dufour said by phone Thursday afternoon. “Looking back on it now, it was definitely crucial to my development and in my productivity levels so I can come here ready to jump in the lineup and be ready to contribute right off the bat.

“That was probably the biggest thing I wanted, the biggest thing the coaching staff wanted and I think juniors was the only way for that to be a possibility.”

Patience was a big key, says Dufour, and now it is starting to pay off. He spent two years playing for Sean Tremblay — a Biddeford native and University of Southern Maine graduate — and the Islanders Hockey Club of Andover, Massachusetts in the United State Premiere Hockey League. There, he was an all star, collecting 14 goals and 16 assists in 38 games.

“They were always on the same page, (Union coach Rick) Bennett and Coach Tremblay, in getting me to where I need to be to compete at the college level,” Dufour said. “After Kents Hill, I started to dedicate myself to training over the summer, so I had a great summer ahead of me going into my first year of juniors.

“That really helped in settling down and the adjustment period. It was obviously a certain jump but I think I did well in overcoming that and the same is true from juniors to college.”

Through two games Dufour has not tallied a point, but has still made an impression. In a 1-1 tie with Sacred Heart University last Saturday he got a pair of shots on net and had an even plus-minus. The following night he was minus-1 in a 5-3 win over Boston University, which at the time was ranked third in the country.

“He’s settled in enough that he played the first two games,” Bennett said. “We have a lot of freshmen and he’s definitely kind of opened our eyes that he can do some things that we didn’t think he could coming out of Juniors. He’s really kind of stepped up a lot.

“…Mark has hockey sense and he wants to be good. He’s very coachable and he has good size. He has really good skill for his size and I think that’s really going to help him here in his career through his four years. Another aspect of Mark’s game that has really improved since he’s been committed here and now in the program is his skating. He’s worked tremendously hard every summer at Paul Vincent’s”

Dufour noted it has been “an incredible experience” thus far, particularly the atmosphere surrounding the program. Though a small school of just a couple thousand students, the Dutchmen have enjoyed tremendous success on the ice in recent years. Since Bennett took over in 2011, Union has won a national championship, qualified for two Frozen Fours and made three trips to the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s crazy how such a small school can have such a big following. It’s been very impressive and it’s been a privilege to be a part of,” Dufour said. “It’s very exciting. We have a lot of great fans. It’s just a great environment to be a part of.”

Dufour will get a little slice of home this weekend, as Union hosts the University of Maine on Friday and Saturday for a pair of 7 p.m. starts. The Winthrop native said he is going to treat playing the Black Bears like it were any other opponent.

“Obviously it’s the home state school but I’m very happy to be at Union — very privileged,” Dufour said. “I’m just trying to go out there and do my thing and get the win for Union.”

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley


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