By Dan Saevig
The Toledo Blade
TOLEDO, Ohio – Sylvain Dufresne doesn’t know if he’s coming or going these days and that’s just fine with him.
Dufresne is a defenseman for the Toledo Storm.
He’s also a backliner for the American Hockey League’s Rochester Americans.
Which team he plays for seemingly depends on the day of the week.
Last Friday and Saturday, it was the Storm. On Sunday, it was the Amerks.
Friday he’s back in the ECHL, as the Storm hosts Dayton at the Sports Arena beginning at 7:35.
Dufresne has changed uniforms so many times this season that he could be a corporate spokesman for Cintas.
“I have nickname in Rochester,” Dufresne said. “They call me, ‘The Chameleon.'”
Dufresne changed colors in the dark last weekend.
Following the Storm’s overtime loss at home to Trenton on Saturday, he packed his gear and loaded up his blue, 2000 Volkswagen Jetta. By midnight he was on the road, a long-haul trucker whose only cargo was a hockey bag full of equipment, a handful of sticks and a change of clothes.
He made it to Erie, Pa., at 4 a.m. and found a hotel. Six and a half hours later, a wake-up call found him. After a shower and a quick bite to eat, he drove another hour or so to Buffalo where the Americans were to play a “home” game in HSBC Arena – home of the NHL’s Sabres – at 5 p.m.
The first Amerk – or Canadian for that matter – to arrive at the rink, the native of Waterloo, Quebec, made his way to the Sabres’ dressing room where he found a couch and a big screen TV.
Waiting for his teammates and a crowd of more than 15,000 to arrive for a game against Cleveland, the 26-year-old arrived at the conclusion that he had time for a one-hour pre-game nap.
Handling the clock with the same deftness he shows when stickhandling, Dufresne got some sleep.
It was the last he’d see until the Jetta pulled back into Toledo after 1 a.m. on Monday.
Later that morning, he was back at the Sports Arena in time to catch the Storm’s bus to Reading, Pa., where he scored a goal on Tuesday evening.
“I don’t mind the travel,” Dufresne said. “It’s my job and it works. It’s nice to be wanted. You know, I’m very lucky. There are a lot of guys on this team that deserve to be in the AHL and they would be there right now if not for the NHL lockout.
“This is what I was hoping for. I spent the past three years in Flint in the United Hockey League and I never got a real chance in the ‘A’.”
The toll from Toledo to Cleveland is $2.35 each way. From Buffalo to Rochester, it’s $2.10.
For a six-year minor league veteran who played forward until four seasons ago, getting a legitimate opportunity to make the jump from the ECHL to the AHL is priceless.
“We did [Storm coach] Nick [Vitucci] a favor to bring him to our training camp,” Rochester general manager Jody Gage said. “The first thing we noticed was his skating and puck-handling ability. Then, in an exhibition game, he went right after a St. John’s player. Since then, he’s played unbelievable for us. He’s earned the right to be here.”
He’s also earned a contract. On March 1, Gage signed Dufresne to an AHL deal for the remainder of the season with an eye toward next year.
“He’s in our sights,” Gage said. “We don’t have any young defensemen coming in that I’m aware of. Things can change, but he deserves the right to be at this level and play at this level.”
In three stints with Rochester, Dufresne has recorded two assists in 29 games. In four go-rounds totaling 26 starts with the Storm, he has a goal and six assists.
In between, he’s driven through a blizzard that slowed the Jetta to five miles per hour and through fog so thick that if it were a piece of meat a family of four could eat for a month.
He’s lived in an apartment in Toledo, in a hotel in Rochester and has eaten at Tim Hortons, Olive Garden and Subway along the way.
“He just lights up when he gets called up,” Vitucci said. “It’s a great message to our young guys.”
And a simple one at that.
Keep on driving. You never know where the road may lead.