Hockey Fights Cancer hits home for Dufour, Isles family

Photo: Karine Côté

by Joe Flionis | AHL On The Beat

For William Dufour, perseverance has been a common theme not just throughout his hockey career, but life in general.

Instilled in him by his mother at an early age, it’s this piece of advice the 21-year-old carries with him everywhere he goes.

“Never give up,” the Bridgeport Islanders forward said, a serious yet warm look across his face. “Even if I have a bad game, just keep working, because you don’t know what can happen in your life. Things change quickly.”

Dufour’s mother, Karine Côté, has a unique perspective on perseverance. She was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer on April 23, 2020, relentlessly fighting to the point where she eventually beat the disease and is now a proud breast cancer survivor.

She knows a thing or two about never giving up.

“She’s been there since day one,” Dufour reminisced. “Since I’ve been young, she’s followed me everywhere. When she got her breast cancer, our bond just got stronger. We’re getting closer and closer every day.

“During COVID, we couldn’t do anything,” Dufour continued. “I stayed a long time with my mom because she was not doing well, so I just took care of her. We were moving to a lot of new places; we’re really close to each other right now. She means a lot to me.”

A Quebec native, Dufour played four seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and was selected in the fifth round of the 2020 NHL Draft by the New York Islanders. He had a memorable 2021-22 season, scoring a league-leading 56 goals and had 116 points in 66 games that year, helping lead Saint John to the Memorial Cup championship in addition to winning QMJHL Player of the Year honors. He also won the gold medal with Canada at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton, becoming the 25th player to ever win a gold medal and the Memorial Cup in the same season.

Yet, at the same time, the promising winger was caring for his mother throughout her treatment.

Dufour understands the importance of family and the significance of always supporting one another.

“He did everything,” Côté said. “He was there to make sure I would be all right. I had [radiation] therapy and sometimes people think that it’s nothing, but I had a lot of side effects.”

“I don’t think she missed a game,” Dufour said. “Home or away, she was always there.”

The biggest reason for her unwavering support?

“I don’t want to miss something,” Côté explained. “I want to be there if he does something special. I want to be there because I don’t know what will happen tomorrow.”

Even during her diagnosis and treatment, Côté couldn’t stay away from the rink. Her courageous battle and the game of hockey will always be intertwined, making games in November – Hockey Fights Cancer month – extra significant.

“It means a lot to me,” Dufour said. “I remember two years ago, when I was in Saint John, we played with the pink jerseys and everything, and my mom did the [ceremonial] faceoff. It was just nice having her in Saint John. Being able to share that moment with her was unforgettable. And I know for her, it meant a lot. Right now, she is just happy to live well.”

Côté’s overwhelming support for Dufour and the Islanders has not been overlooked either, as she’s been a familiar face at Total Mortgage Arena during home games.

“It’s about seven or eight hours,” she said of her drive to Bridgeport. “It depends on what time I leave from Quebec, but normally about seven and a half hours, only stopping one or two times to get gas or something to eat.”

“It’s amazing,” said Dufour’s teammate and occasional linemate Arnaud Durandeau. “It’s great for Will, it’s great for everyone. Just being able to see her battle through cancer and still supporting her son like that.

“You want to support your son, your family, your friends as long as you can, because you never know when the day will come that you can’t.”

The Islanders continue to spread awareness and pay tribute to those affected by cancer later this month, hosting their annual Hockey Fights Cancer game on Saturday, Nov. 18. They’ll wear specialty white and lavender warmup jerseys, which will be auctioned off to the public, prior to their game against the Hershey Bears.

“A lot of people go through it,” Durandeau said about cancer and its effect on communities. “Will went through it. He and his mom battled through it. I lived with him last year, I’ve met his mom a lot. She’s a great lady and I’m glad she’s still here to support her son. I think it means a lot to our players on our team.”

Dufour recalled his NHL debut with the New York Islanders on Jan. 18, 2023, and how special it was having his mother there. The story of how his family arrived at the game was quite hectic. Not knowing where he was going to play that day, if at all, his family had to be prepared for anything.

“It was a nice moment with my family, but speaking of never giving up, it’s funny how it all came together that day,” Dufour said.

“I knew I had been called up, but wasn’t sure if I was going to play. So she went to work in the morning and prepared all her stuff. She had her luggage and her carry-on and everything. She had everything in her car, and as soon as I saw my name on the TV, I called her. After practice, they were already at the airport with my agent and my cousin. They booked a flight, and they were there.”

Durandeau also made his NHL debut last season and explained just how important of a moment it is, not just for the player, but for everyone that has been part of the journey.

“I think your NHL debut is amazing for yourself, but mostly for your family,” Durandeau said. “I think your parents, your brothers and sisters, your ex-coaches, and everyone that has helped you throughout your young career, it’s also their opportunity to be there and celebrate.”

His mother’s constant promotion of perseverance is evident in Dufour’s attitude both on and off the ice.

“The points are going to come,” said Dufour, who scored his first goal of the season on Friday night in Charlotte, after ranking fourth on the Bridgeport Islanders with 21 goals last year. “I just have to focus on how I’m playing, and everything is going to go well after.”

Dufour continues to make strides in his second pro season, as he looks to build on a terrific 48-point rookie campaign.

“Never give up,” he said. “You can get an injury or get sick. You never know [what can happen], so you just want to enjoy your life, enjoy every day, and keep working every day.”

“We don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” Côté echoed. “I just want to tell people to enjoy life now. Not in two hours, not tomorrow. If you want to do something, do it now.”